The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Sports

September 6, 2013

Punter excited about fresh start

PITTSBURGH — New Pittsburgh Steelers punter Zoltan Mesko believes that everything happens for a reason.

That was never more evident than this week.

Mesko was released by the New England Patriots last week, but was unemployed just two days. Scooped up by the Steelers Monday, and given a second chance in the NFL, Mesko is ready for the challenge. After all, he was once a fan of the Black and Gold.

Indeed, somewhere along his journey from Ohio to Michigan to Foxborough, Mass., Mesko fell in love with Pittsburgh’s pride and joy.

“I randomly found this Steelers jacket at a Wal-Mart in Cleveland, because I needed a new winter jacket,” he said. “I really had no clue if the Steelers were a football team or baseball team. I didn’t know anything about them.”

He does now. And he will get a chance to return the favor, when Pittsburgh takes on Tennessee in Week 1.

Mesko has been busy, getting a quick history lesson this week. He passes the franchises six Super Bowl trophies every day as he attends team meetings, and he also has been told about the city’s Major League Baseball team. It wouldn’t be difficult to imagine that Mesko could quickly become the favorite Steeler for Pirates fans. And it would have less to do with his kicking prowess and everything to do with his first name, since the “Z” sign (for Zoltan) has become a good-luck symbol for the team’s players and fan base.

Even Steelers coach Mike Tomlin got into the act by flashing the “Z” sign when he first saw Mesko being interviewed in the club’s locker room before a recent practice. Mesko didn’t see it, but he is well aware of the reference. One might even see him throwing out the first pitch at an upcoming Pirates game.

“I have heard about the ‘Z’ sign and the Pirates,” Mesko said. “I welcome it, but I’m not going to take it to the next level. That’s the Pirates’ thing, and I think it’s pretty cool. And if they call, so be it. But first thing’s first. I have to take care of my job here.”

The Steelers are hopeful that Mesko stabilizes a position that has been in constant transition, as Drew Butler, Jeremy Kapinos, Daniel Sepulveda, Paul Ernster and Mitch Berger have held the job since 2008. When asked about him this week, Tomlin was effusive in praising Mesko.

“He’s a high-pedigree guy, one that was highly regarded out of Michigan,” Tomlin said. “He’s a long guy (6-foot-5, 225 pounds), a left-footer. He’s no stranger to the elements, having kicked in New England in the professional ranks and at the University of Michigan in college. He is an Ohio native. All those things were attractive to us.”

After the Patriots selected him with the 150th pick in the 2010 fifth round, Mesko quickly established himself among the league’s top punters. He averaged 44.2 yards per kick with nearly 40 yards in net. He had just one punt blocked, as a rookie, and a whopping 71 downed inside the 20 with none returned for touchdowns.

Yet the Patriots still cut him.

“Honestly, I don’t know,” Mesko said. “I wasn’t really let known of the situation. I like to believe that I did have a really good camp. I feel really fundamentally sound. What is in the past is in the past. I don’t look back at it. I look forward, and I’m really glad to be here. It’s never fun to get released, but I’m glad that I landed on my feet.

“And I’m glad that I landed with such a great organization. So, I’m excited about the future. Being released was always a possibility. Anything in life is a possibility. It was a little bit of a curveball in the essence. But I’m a strong believer in things happening for a reason. Now that I find myself here today, I guess that’s kind of attesting to that fact.”

Notes: Outside linebacker Jarvis Jones (chest) practiced Friday, his second straight day of full participation, while fullback Will Johnson (hamstring) was a full participant for the first time this week. ... Tight end Heath Miller (right knee) was limited for the third straight day, along with defensive end Brett Keisel (not injury related). ... Running back Le’Veon Bell (right mid-foot sprain) missed his third straight practice and has been ruled out for Sunday’s game. ... The final injury report Friday has Bell listed as out, while Miller is doubtful. Jones, Johnson and Keisel are probable.

 

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