In the Stonehouse family, when it’s Thanksgiving, the men usually break away and the conversation turns to punting.
“Literally 100% of all of us are talking punting,” said West Hills Chaminade senior Jack Stonehouse.
This is the first family of punting in Southern California. Stonehouse’s father, John, was a standout punter at Loyola High and USC. His uncle Paul was a standout punter at Loyola and Stanford. His cousin Ryan was a standout at Colorado State after punting for Santa Ana Mater Dei. Brother Josh, an eighth-grader, is starting to boom his own punts.
Stonehouse, who is headed to Missouri, averaged 41.7 yards as a junior at Chaminade. During the spring season, he had 14 punts and averaged 46.7 yards, with seven inside the 20. He also had six tackles on the kickoff team.
The first words learned by babies in this family might not be “Mommy” or “Daddy.” They could be “hang time.”
One indication of how different things are in the Stonehouse family is the reaction when Jack has a bloody nose. That injury is a badge of honor when it happens after he strikes his nose with his knee on a kick, evidence of hamstring flexibility.
“I used to practice with a helmet so I didn’t get a bloody nose,” John said.
Jack got his first bloody nose in high school, with his father telling him, “Let’s do it again.”
Who says kickers are crazier than punters?
Brothers John and Paul faced each other once in college in 1992. Paul, a senior at Stanford, kept pinning USC inside the 20 with his punts, forcing John into tough situations. Stanford won 23-9. Afterward, USC coach Larry Smith let John stay with Paul in Palo Alto. “We had a great time,” John said.
John Stonehouse went on to marry Sue Skenderian, who was a member of the UCLA women’s soccer team.
During the pandemic shutdown, with sports restricted, Jack Stonehouse spent much of his time searching for deserted fields to practice his kicking. Last season, he put 12 punts inside the 20-yard line, an important skill to help the defense.
Jack, 6-foot-3 and 175 pounds, started learning to kick in kindergarten. His father taught him.
“I always wanted to win the punt games,” he said. “He taught me them.”
As he learned the skill, Stonehouse said, he “looked up everything possible to confirm everything he told me and to make sure we did the same thing. I learned that it was a mentality. Since I practiced so much, it becomes muscle memory.”
Punting is a far more challenging skill than kicking, according to Stonehouse, and it’s changing. There are punters from Australia rolling out and then punting. You also have to figure out the wind, how to add backspin on the ball, and where players running down field expect the ball to be kicked.
“You only get so many punts during a game,” he said. “I can go out and practice every day and hit bombs every day, but if I don’t have the [right] mentality … I would go nowhere. It’s more about focusing on what needs to happen.”
Stonehouse says the ball drop “is everything” for a punter.
“That literally tells you where the ball is going to go,” he said. “Is is going to be a spiral? It is a shank? I would stand next to my bed and drop it repeatedly.”
The father-son punting competitions have ended.
“I used to be able to beat him but not anymore,” John Stonehouse said. “I’m too old.”
Just don’t get too worried if you see a Stonehouse punter with a bloody nose. To this family, that’s a good thing.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.