The Colquitts, Football's First Family of Fourth Down
The Colquitts are a multi-generation punting dynasty and the story behind the family's rise is as unlikely as it gets.
Photo by Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
No self-respecting football fan will ever mistake Dustin and Britton Colquitt for Peyton and Eli Manning, but the NFL's other brothers still form the foundation of one of football's most impressive dynasties. So what if they're punters?
"I would say it's the opposite of when Peyton and Eli play. That's a little different," said Britton, a teammate of Peyton Manning's with the Denver Broncos. "That's quarterbacks whereas punting is not necessarily this guy won the game or that guy lost the game. It's a lot more relaxed."
For the NFL's "more relaxed" family act, it all started with Dustin and Britton's grandfather, Lester, an all-state high school punter in Tennessee who went on to work as a detective for the Knoxville Police Department. Lester Colquitt was famous around town for his exploits as a high school athlete, as well as his volunteer work coaching the football team of the Tennessee School for the Deaf.
"Most of the stories I heard growing up once I started kicking in high school were not about my dad," Dustin Colquitt said. "It was, 'You should have seen the foot Lester had. He could outkick you any day of the week.'"
His dad, Craig Colquitt, was the first NFL punter in the family. In 1974, he saw a classified ad in the Knoxville News-Sentinel: the University of Tennessee was calling for aspiring punters. At the time, Colquitt was earning minimum wage working in the china shop at Miller's department store and hadn't touched a football in two years.
More than 40 years later, he is the patriarch of football's first family of fourth downs. It turns out the work at the china shop actually helped Craig, who starred at Tennessee and won two Super Bowls with the Pittsburgh Steelers dynasty of the late 1970s.
"I was working with my hands. It was important not to break dishes, so it worked out well for a punter," Craig Colquitt said. "I read that advertisement and went outside and kicked the ball and it went over the house and into the trees and I thought, 'I'm going to try this.'"
Using a two-step technique unique to football at the time, Colquitt set numerous school records at UT. Those marks were topped four years later by his nephew, Jimmy. The son of Craig's oldest brother, Jimmy Colquitt first picked up the technique by helping his uncle train.
"I watched him every time he would punt. I basically picked up his technique by throwing the ball to him. I just worked on my own when he wasn't there and had fun with it," said Jimmy, a two-time All-American at Tennessee who played two games with the Seattle Seahawks. "I remember one day thinking if [Craig] can do it, I can do it."
Decades later, some of Jimmy Colquitt's school records were finally challenged by Dustin and Britton. Both were also named All-Americans with the Volunteers and followed their dad and cousin to the NFL; Dustin with the Kansas City Chiefs and Britton with the Broncos.
The Colquitt legacy doesn't end there. Another cousin, Travis, starred at Marshall University, earned a tryout with the Buffalo Bills, and now works as a sheriff's deputy in West Virginia. A distant cousin, Greg, earned a scholarship to Tennessee Tech before walking on at Clemson University. But right now, only Dustin and Britton are playing in the NFL.
Now in his tenth season with the Chiefs, Dustin didn't seem destined to take on the Colquitt trade. Growing up in Knoxville, no one in the family cared less about football than the future Pro Bowler.
While younger brother Britton helped dad with his summer punting and kicking camps, Dustin would hang out at the pool. When Craig promised to leave his sons his Super Bowl rings whenever he passed away, it was Britton who tugged at his shirt before asking, "Dad, when are you going to die?"
A star soccer player at Bearden High School with a partial scholarship offer from Brown University, Dustin's path changed suddenly before his senior year when the football team's punter was injured. With Britton already trying out for the freshman team, Dustin was thrust into the family business.
There was just one big problem.
"The biggest thing I had to tackle when I started punting was I'm right-handed and left-footed," Dustin said. "You have to drop with your left hand if you're left-footed when you're punting."
And so the Colquitts worked together to effectively rewire Dustin's brain and teach him to drop with his left hand. At Britton's suggestion, Dustin started brushing his teeth left-handed and juggling. Before long, the teenager who admitted he couldn't even pick his nose with his left hand was ready to punt.
The daily training regimen only ramped up from there. Some days, the brothers kicked balls to each other in the backyard. Other days, they'd simply boom balls over trees and houses. But much of their time involved mastering the key to the punting kingdom.
"I really focused on the drop. It's everything," said Craig, who still occasionally works individually with aspiring punters. "If you don't have a good drop, it's going to affect your concentration and how you perform. I said, 'This is where you really have to focus, on the drop.'"
The boys practiced their drop everywhere. At school, in the living room, in the backyard. That intensive training paid off in Dustin's first high school game. With his team leading by two late and pinned near its end zone, Dustin boomed a 70-yard punt that iced the game. The following fall, with only 33 punts worth of in-game experience to his credit, he followed in his father's footsteps by walking on at Tennessee.
By the time Britton arrived on campus three years later, the Colquitt name was an institution in Knoxville. Britton admits that the trappings of being another Colquitt on campus contributed to his issues at UT. After being arrested in 2008 for driving under the influence and leaving the scene of an accident, he was suspended five games and stripped of his scholarship.
"It was crazy. Even in the student body, people knew who I was. It wasn't good for me as a young guy. I got in plenty of trouble," Britton said. "It's like I was already the guy. So I kind of walked into college like I was the starting punter for Tennessee already. It made me grow up faster because I did stupid stuff."
By the time Britton left Knoxville, the Colquitts occupied each of the top four spots on Tennessee's career punting average list. Jimmy still ranks first, followed by Britton, Dustin, and Craig.
By shortening dad's patented two-step technique and adopting the Aussie kick style that was popularized in the NFL by former Aussie Rules Football players like Darren Bennett and Ben Graham, Dustin and Britton became the first set of brothers to punt in the NFL since 1941. In 2013, Dustin signed a five-year, $18.75 million contract with the Chiefs that made him the NFL's highest-paid punter. His reign lasted five months before Britton signed a record three-year extension with the Broncos.
The extensions ensure that the brothers will continue to play for division rivals and face each other twice every season. Even in his fifth season with the Broncos, Britton admits the novelty of facing his brother hasn't gotten old.
"I know my parents love it. The first time is just as exciting as the last time," Britton said. "The fact that I can look over and this goofy guy that I grew up with is across from me. He might be sticking his gut out trying to make me laugh during the game, which is crazy. It's very surreal. We just love it."
Craig closed his punting camp in 1995, but the quest to groom the next high-kicking Colquitt has already begun. Britton's two-year-old son, Nash, has started kicking, as has Jimmy's ambidextrous three-year-old grandson, Maison. But the torch could someday be passed to Dustin's oldest son, Brinkley, who turns eight in December. Just like his old man, the kid is left-footed and right-handed.
"He's as gifted athletically as Dustin was," Craig Colquitt sad. "I think he's probably smarter than Dustin too."