Mesko took stock during long lockout

By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / August 13, 2011

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FOXBOROUGH - It seems highly unlikely that Zoltan Mesko would lounge around on his couch for days on end, but when he explains why he interned at an investment firm during the NFL lockout, he makes it sound as if it were either that or become a couch potato.

So Mesko chose the former.

The Patriots punter, who heads into his second season after setting a league rookie record for highest net punting average at 38.4 yards (his gross distance on 58 punts was 43.2 yards), spent the offseason splitting time among working out, honing his football craft, and interning at Graham Partners in suburban Philadelphia.

“I just tell people it’s an investment firm and invest their money and hopefully do better than the [stock] market’s doing right now,’’ he said recently.

There was some balancing required to keep up with his workouts, but Mesko thrives on a regimented schedule. Former Michigan roommate Tim North said last year that Mesko goes to bed at the same time and wakes up at the same time every day, getting eight hours of sleep, and keeps a notebook of all of the things he has to do from day-to-day.

Like many second-year players, Mesko is more comfortable in training camp.

“I would say it’s a different approach because I know what’s going to happen,’’ he said. “I know mentally what is thrown my way and I know what the coaches expect of me and I’m more welcoming of that challenge.’’

Though Mesko is Michigan’s all-time leader in punts and punting yardage, there was still much to learn when he arrived in New England. For one thing, he didn’t really have a position coach in Ann Arbor, and now he has energetic special teams coach Scott O’Brien to help dissect every phase of his punts.

There were some mis-hits, as every punter has, but there was also the booming 65-yarder in overtime against Baltimore. The Ravens were pinned at their own 19-yard line, a significant swing in field position. Baltimore went three-and-out, New England got the ball back at its own 38, and seven plays later Stephen Gostkowski nailed the winning field goal.

Of Mesko’s 58 punts in 2010 - thanks to the Patriots’ high-octane offense, he wasn’t called upon too often - 19 were downed inside the 20-yard line, and five were touchbacks.

“I’ve definitely broken down some things, with the help of Scott O’Brien, he’s been a tremendous help, he’s been in the business for 30 years of coaching punters and kickers so he’s got a plethora of knowledge to share,’’ Mesko said. “With his help and others and going to camps, and actually working with [former Patriots punter] Chris Hanson a little bit it’s a whole multitude of things, little things that make the difference.’’

Mesko has been strong in camp thus far, and he was looking forward to seeing how he fared against Jacksonville. He only had to punt once - a 53-yarder in the first quarter.

He also has gained a sense of comfort with long snapper Matt Katula, who joined the Patriots midway through last season, and Gostkowski, whom he serves as holder on field goals and extra-point tries.

“When somebody has an average, below-average day we definitely pick each other up, it’s definitely a unique fraternity,’’ Mesko said. “We have to support each other and kind of get gelling before the beginning of the season, we’re right on schedule with that. We’re doing well.

“It’s definitely nice to have people that have a passion for the game and they’re not shy - if I need extra help, like today, I pulled Matt and said, ‘Hey can I get an extra 10 minutes of work with you,’ and he was very welcoming. So I’m definitely excited to have people like that on the team.’’

He’s written down some goals for the season, though he doesn’t want to share them.

“I do have some high expectations; hopefully my hard work in the offseason pays off,’’ he said.

The market he’s learned so much about may be faltering, but Mesko’s hoping his stock only goes up.

Shalise Manza Young can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.

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