Noel Prefontaine - Kicker/Punter -1998-07, 10-13 - San Diego State
Tom Shanahan - San Diego Hall of Champions - 2004-05-30
Upon Noel Prefontaine's release from Kansas City in 2003, he returned to his second home, Toronto. Prefontaine, 30, in 2004 is now in his seventh year playing in the Canadian Football League as a four-time CFL All-Star for the Argonauts as one of the league's premier punters. He averaged 46.9 yards a punt last year and has a career best of 47.7 in 1999.
He also handles the team's place-kicking and kickoff duties and his been known to make a special teams tackle. The CFL salaries are blue collar--there is a cap of $150,000 that only the marquee players earn--but Prefontaine said the game is more fun for him than the NFL because it's a kicker's league. There are only three downs for a first down and the field is bigger. That makes the role of a punter--especially one with Prefontaine's ability as a directional punter--more critical on more series of plays.
Prefontaine has consistently led the CFL and averaged over 47 yards a punt in his Toronto career.
He has an uncanny knack for punting the ball not only inside the 5-yard line, but directing it out of bounds sometimes inside the 1-yard line. In workouts and minicamps at Kansas City, Prefontaine says one day he punted five balls out of bounds inside the 1. Prefontaine said the coaches were impressed, but in the NFL now the preferred style is high booming punts.
"I'm a different type of punter," he said. "Maybe my time to make in the NFL would have been back in the 1960s. I don't fit the mold that the NFL wants these days. Anything different is too risky for NFL teams to try."
And there is another reason Prefontaine enjoys the CFL-style game more than NFL: practice. In the NFL, practice means punters and kickers stand around and watch the majority of the time. In the CFL, not only is there more emphasis on the punting and kicking games, the Argonauts use the athletic Prefontaine as a position player on scout teams. When Prefontaine an option quarterback at El Camino, San Diego State wasn't afraid to use his instinctive football ability on fake punts.
"Playing in the NFL, you're competing against the best," he said. "But up here, I get to play quarterback and receiver on the scout team. In the NFL, punters and kickers just stand around on the sidelines, and that's not me. There is something inside me that says you have to play football."
The chance to play in the NFL would have been the pinnacle of Noel Prefontaine's career, one that includes championships as a quarterback at El Camino High and an All-American season as a punter in 1997 at San Diego State.
The money that comes with playing in the NFL could have allowed him to purchase the big house and fancy cars that come with a disposable income.
But those missed opportunities weren't the thoughts on Prefontaine's mind when the Kansas City Chiefs released him in early June of 2003 after mini-camps, shortcircuiting his hope to compete for the punting job in training camp.
"The chance to make millions would have been nice, and it would have been great to help my mom," said Prefontaine, who has stood by his Vietnamese-born mother after the breakup of her marriage with his father, who served in Vietnam. "I have a very, very strong family, and my mom is the head of it.
"Obviously, she knows I'm not in a situation where I can do those things for her. But not having the chance to make NFL money--those are the breaks in life. Money isn't the most important thing in the world, and it's not what says how much I love my mom."
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