Andy Vujnovich has no trouble getting people to believe he’s a football player.
The University of Wisconsin senior has many of the physical traits many expect from a player in the sport — broad shoulders, wide neck, muscular arms and thick legs. Where he runs into issues is convincing others of the position he plays.
“I say punter and they always think I’m joking,” he said.
Most people asking these questions expect the 6-foot-3, 230-pounder from Columbus to answer linebacker or tight end for the No. 12 Badgers. But he’s found his home on the football field as a specialist and his passion for weightlifting is more for challenging himself and clearing his mind.
“Punting comes first. That’s what I’m good at, so I plan on sticking with it,” Vujnovich said. “It’s pretty awesome. I get a lot of recognition for just being an outlier, basically. Obviously, punting comes first, but it’s fun to be showing out in the weight room as well.”
Vujnovich’s strength and workout feats were mostly an in-team storyline since he transferred to UW from Division III University of Dubuque in 2020, but they got a few mentions on TV broadcasts during games last season. His measurables received a boost in acclaim when he was included in the 2021 College Football Freaks List, an annual feature from The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman that details the sport’s most impressive athletes in terms of size, strength and speed.
Per Feldman’s list and a follow-up story from UWBadgers.com, Vujnovich bench presses 395 pounds, has a 35-inch vertical leap, a 10-yard split of his 40-yard dash of 1.54 seconds and a 4.0-second pro agility time.
“He’s a guy that we have to kick out of (the weight room) every day,” said Shaun Snee, the team’s director of strength and conditioning. “He’s a guy that does above-and-beyond stuff in here, doing a lot of bodybuilding. The great thing about him is he brings so much energy to that group — this specialist group is one of the best we’ve had in terms of training in the weight room.”
UW coach Paul Chryst joked with former linebacker Jack Cichy, who’s been visiting training camp this month, that the specialists look a little different than when Cichy was on the team, a reference to former kicker Rafael Gaglianone (5-11, 240).
Despite the impressive numbers Vujnovich has put up in the weight room, even more time and effort has gone into punting this offseason. He averaged 41.6 yards per punt last season, 10th among Big Ten Conference punters, and five of his 33 tries went for 50-plus yards. His first Division I punt against Illinois went 60 yards, which was his season-high.
What he hopes to avoid this season are the shanks, such as the 34-yarder against Northwestern, which dragged down his average. Having the experience of last season’s pandemic-shortened schedule gives him confidence for this year and he thinks he can eliminate the poor punts.
“Coming into this year, every punt I’m just relaxed and I know I’ve done it before,” he said. “So it’s just kind of having fun with it. Now, just going out there, even if the last kick was really good or really bad, I just clear my mind and hit the next one.”
Special teams coach Chris Haering says Vujnovich’s work ethic in the weight room translates to what he does during and outside of practice. Vujnovich might only get a handful of kicks with the full team during the practice window, so he has to hone his craft with his fellow specialists on separate fields.
The biggest area of improvement Haering has seen is in Vujnovich’s hands, catching snaps cleaner and eliminating any wasted movement on the catch. That has resulted in a more consistent drop, Haering said.
“Every 10th of a second counts, especially when guys are coming off the edge running 4.4 (40-yard dashes) at you,” Vujnovich said.
Another adjustment Vujnovich has had to make is getting acclimated to a new long-snapper. Adam Bay, who snapped for UW for four seasons, graduated and will be replaced by sophomore Peter Bowden. The two have had ample time throughout the year to acclimate to each other, and Vujnovich said he’s as confident with Bowden as he was with Bay.
Asked about hang time or yardage, Vujnovich said he doesn’t have any specific metrics he’s trying to hit this season, just the team goal of pinning opponents inside the 10-yard line on any punt across the 50. He’ll get his first taste of a true Camp Randall Stadium Game Day when No. 19 Penn State visits on Sept. 4. To hear the home crowd react to a good punt is something he’s been yearning for.
“You just have to go out there and perform,” Vujnovich said. “I just want to go out there and execute for the team and do what’s best for them.”
Get to know the Wisconsin Badgers' 2022 football recruiting class
Myles Burkett became the Badgers’ first Class of 2022 recruit when he announced his decision in January.
The 6-foot-1, 200-pounder from Franklin is a three-star recruit per 247Sports and Rivals, and showed great mobility and arm strength in his junior season. He battled back from a knee injury as a sophomore to throw for 1,236 and 11 touchdowns and rush for 180 yards and a score in a pandemic-shortened season.
He’s the first in-state quarterback to earn a scholarship out of high school since 2011.
As his recruiting stock started to rise, the Badgers were able to secure a commitment from Fall Rivers’ Barrett Nelson in late June.
The offensive tackle was 6-foot-6 and 255 pounds after his junior season, and his quickness off the ball has made him a load on both the offensive and defensive lines. Nelson is a three-star recruit per 247Sports and a two-star on Rivals.
He had offers from Iowa State, Northwestern, Nebraska, Purdue and others before choosing UW.
Nelson’s father, Todd, was a Badgers offensive lineman in the late 1980s, and his brother, Jack, is currently an offensive lineman for UW.
After wowing UW coaches at a pair of camps, Monroe tight end JT Seagreaves accepted a scholarship offer in late June.
Seagreaves is an intriguing prospect for the Badgers — at 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds, he has the physical frame to grow into an imposing tight end, and he possesses sprinter speeds. He’s averaged more than 21 yards per catch each of the past two seasons and was starting to gain more Power Five conference interested when he committed to UW.
Seagreaves is a three-star recruit per 247Sports and a two-star according to Rivals.
In multiple trips to UW’s campus in June, Cade Yacamelli was called “a football player” by UW coaches rather than locking him into a position. He earned a scholarship offer after an impressive camp workout and accepted it in late June.
The consensus three-star athlete was starting to earn more recruiting attention from Power Five schools when he accepted the Badgers’ offer. UW was the first Power Five offer for the 6-foot, 200-pounder. He’s played receiver, running back and defensive back in high school, but likely projects as a receiver or defensive back in college.
The Penn Trafford High School product has good quickness and change-of-direction that make him dangerous with the ball in his hands.
When A’Khoury Lyde accepted a UW scholarship offer in late June, he became the first player on the defensive side of the ball to commit in the 2022 class.
Lyde (5-foot-11, 170 pounds), a consensus three-star recruit, has strong ball skills and a willingness to hit that separates him from other cornerbacks.
The Wayne, New Jersey, native is the eighth-ranked player in his state, per Rivals.
The Badgers landed a tall, speedy receiver when Tommy McIntosh committed in late June.
The DeWitt, Michigan, native stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 200 pounds. He uses his body to shield off defenders at the point of the catch and does well catching the ball away from his body. His Hudl page lists a 4.47-second 40-yard dash time, and he has breakaway speed when he gets in the open field and can use his long strides.
A consensus three-star wide receiver chose the Badgers over offers from Cincinnati, Indiana, Iowa, Vanderbilt and Wake Forest.
UW beefed up its defensive front by landing defensive tackle Curtis Neal.
Neal — a 6-foot-2, 310-pounder — had more than 25 scholarship offers, and reportedly was deciding between UW and Ohio State at the end of his recruiting process. Neal is a product of William Amos Hough High School in Cornelius, North Carolina, where the Badgers found receiver Devin Chandler in last year’s cycle.
Neal, with his size and strength, likely fits best as a nose tackle in the Badgers’ 3-4 scheme.
Jim Leonhard may have found another rangy, smart cornerback to add to his secondary in Avyonne Jones, who committed in to UW in late June.
Jones — who hails from Southlake, Texas — was on campus the weekend of June 18 for an official visit and had narrowed an extensive offer list to UW and California. The 5-foot-11, 180-pound defensive back was previously committed to Oklahoma State, but retracted that commitment in late May.
With good recovery speed and a good feel for getting his hands between a receiver’s at the point of the catch, the consensus three-star prospect is a good fit for what UW cornerbacks coach Hank Poteat said he wants from his position group.
The Badgers landed the top-ranked player in Wisconsin for the sixth consecutive recruiting class when Joe Brunner committed the last week of June.
Brunner — a 6-foot-6, 300-pound prospect from Milwaukee who attends Whitefish Bay High School — is a consensus four-star recruit and a top-10 offensive tackle in the nation.
He held at least 16 Power Five scholarship offers, including ones from a majority of the Big Ten Conference, LSU, Notre Dame, Oregon and Tennessee.
VINNY ANTHONY II
Receiver Vinny Anthony II — a consensus three-star prospect from Louisville, Kentucky — joined UW's class on June 30.
Possessing a good burst of speed and long arms that extend his catch radius, the 6-foot-1, 170-pound Anthony has a chance to play across the formation as a receiver.
Anthony chose UW over Cincinnati and Duke.
Austin Brown — who hails from Johnston City, Illinois, a small town outside of Carbondale — was considering offers from Boston College, Illinois, Michigan and Northwestern before choosing UW. The consensus three-star prospect had 21 known scholarship offers.
Brown committed to UW on the Fourth of July.
At 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds, he has a good frame already and his high school film shows a willingness to lay big hits and attack blockers. He also plays quarterback for Johnston City.