Creating Halloween costumes can be an art. Jonny Linehan took it to that level while celebrating the 2017 edition of the holiday.
The BYU punter donned a football referee’s uniform, complete with a yellow flag, and then popped on a pair of dark sunglasses and grabbed a walking stick typically used by a blind person. Linehan posted two photos of his costume on his Twitter account – one of him “watching” a play, the other of him throwing a penalty flag.
His Halloween day tweet read “Dressed up as a Pac-12 ref …” and proved immensely popular. Two weeks later, the tweet had received 365 retweets, 2,365 likes and 29 comments.
Dressed up as a Pac-12 ref… pic.twitter.com/3mUWyJqTrB
— Jonny Linehan (@jlinehan9) October 31, 2017
Linehan embraces social media channels like Twitter as a platform to introduce people to a side of college athletes they never see on the field or in media interviews.
“Social media is powerful,” Linehan said. “It can be a useful tool in helping people realize that punters are people and that BYU athletes are actually like normal people and not wierdos.”
Linehan’s ability to poke fun at himself and crack jokes about everything from campus life to football has endeared him to BYU fans and fans from other schools alike. It opened a door for the senior to carve out an unusually vibrant social media presence for a student-athlete.
Coach gave me my playbook for the weekend… pic.twitter.com/4WDFcAMAuf
— Jonny Linehan (@jlinehan9) November 13, 2017
More than 8,500 people follow Linehan on his official Twitter account (@jlinehan9).
“I think the BYU fans love it,” Linehan said. “I know they love it more than my teammates love it. They always roll my eyes when they see me doing a tweet or doing something silly. But I just try and bring happiness, joy and smiles to people’s faces. And it’s actually worked. I’ve made friends from different fan bases through social media.”
Embarking a punting journey
Linehan’s popularity isn’t just based on his social media brand. He’s made a name for himself as BYU’s starting punter over the last three seasons.
This season, Linehan has totaled 51 punts and is averaging 42.67 yards per punt. Eight punts have gone 50 yards or longer. His punting ability helps the Cougars do well in punt return coverage.
As a team, this season, BYU ranks 15th among FBS teams in net punting (41.27 net yards per game).
“He really has a nice knack for knowing where the spaces are on the defense and getting into that space and stretching out our operation time a little bit, buying some time for our coverage to get down field,” said assistant head coach Ed Lamb, who also serves as the special teams coordinator.
Linehan originally came to BYU to play rugby. He helped the Cougars win three consecutive national championships in that sport, before turning his attention to football.
Growing up in New Zealand, Linehan got his first taste of football from seeing the Super Bowl. He would race home after school and watch it on Monday (the Super Bowl airs a day later in New Zealand than the United States because of the international dateline. Linehan always figured he would stay in his home country and play rugby. When he attended BYU, dreams of football took root.
Encouraged by former BYU assistant coaches Paul Tidwell and Kelly Poppinga, Linehan participated in walk-on tryouts before the 2015 season. He showed enough promise with his natural kicking ability to earn a roster spot.
“Kicking a football is a little different than a rugby ball,” Linehan said. “A rugby ball is softer and has a bit more pop, a bigger sweet spot if you mishit it. So I went out to the tryouts and I wasn’t overly impressive. I wasn’t anything like amazing. But they saw potential enough that they gave me a chance.
Linehan made an instant splash. He punted five times for 255 yards — including a career-best 77-yarder — in his debut against Nebraska in the 2015 season opener.
Becoming a fearless leader
One thing that defines Linehan during his three seasons at BYU is his refusal to quit. He’s always looking for ways to give the Cougars a shot of momentum.
Sometimes his efforts lead to decisions like running for a fake punt on 4th-and-19 from his own end zone as he did against Boise State in 2016. Other times, it leads to a series of brilliant punts that pin an opponent inside its own 10, like he did against UNLV to help the Cougars notch a 31–21 win over the Rebels.
“He’s happy and grateful for his opportunity and his spot on the team,” Lamb said. “Whenever you see him, it just comes through so clearly that he’s glad to be where he’s at. He’s happy to be competing for the team. Win or lose, he’s motivated to get better and put his best product on the field each week.”
Linehan has consistently put a quality product on the field. His career average of 42.6 yards per punt on 170 career punts ranks 8th all-time among BYU punters.
Three seasons as a punter has helped Linehan appreciate the nuances required for effective punting. Like many people, he came into the sport thinking all he needed to do was go out and kick a ball.
Now he sees punting as an art and works tirelessly to improve on it. Linehan hopes he can spread the message that it requires true skill to master as with any other position in football.
“It’s something that goes underrated and under appreciated and that’s OK,” Linehan said. “We’re kind of like the bathroom break at the concert. There’s so much that goes into it, but our job is to make it look like it’s easy. Then when people go try it, they realize it’s actually pretty hard and difficult.”
Linehan is one of 18 BYU seniors who will play in their final home game at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Saturday when the Cougars face Massachusetts at 1 p.m. MT on BYUtv.