FOXBOROUGH — If Zoltan Mesko is worried that the rookie punter the Patriots signed in the spring is still hanging around, he isn’t showing it.
New England signed Ryan Allen, a two-time Ray Guy Award winner at Louisiana Tech, shortly after this year’s draft.
It isn’t unusual to bring in challengers, but Allen is still on the field, still in the locker room and meeting rooms, and still a threat to Mesko, who is entering his fourth season with the Patriots.
“No,” Mesko said Monday when asked if he’s nervous. “Honestly, it’s healthy competition. I know I’ll be better off from it, regardless of if I’ll be here or not. Honestly. That’s honest, true opinion. I haven’t been in this situation, I’m always pushing myself and I control the controllables.
“That’s all there is to it. You can’t overthink it.”
Mesko had 60 punts last season, averaging 43.1 yards per (37.9 yards net), with six touchbacks, and 28 downed inside the 20-yard line.
With the Patriots leading the league in scoring last year, Mesko did not get as many chances as other punters, and that’s the way the team likes it. But nearly half of his kicks were downed inside the 20; only two full-time punters had a better percentage.
Dedicated to his craft, Mesko keeps a notebook every season, keeping track of “little tidbits that I guess wouldn’t matter much to you guys. Every golfer has his own swing and I’ve got my own things that I like, and try to fine-tune those things.”
He won’t tip his hand on what was in the notebook, but Mesko feels like he’s become a solid all-around punter.
“I felt like I tried to work on my overall game; I wouldn’t say there’s something that I really lack, but if there is, I try to work on my overall game,” he said. “It’s just about connecting, stringing them together, because it can become boring to do all the drills, but you must do them.”
Watching Mesko during training camp can be interesting. There are plenty of things the specialists have to do, but in the moments when there is not anything scripted for them Mesko is often practicing his drops or punting a ball, walking to where it landed, and punting it back in the other direction.
Drafted out of Michigan in 2010, Mesko’s personality preceded him to Foxborough. He was twice homecoming king on the massive campus, a cult figure with no fewer than five T-shirts made in his honor, including “Zoltan for Space Emperor [of Space].” And he was the first specialist in the long history of Michigan football to be chosen a team captain.
His popularity has grown among Patriots fans as well. There have been a couple of fans in “Mesko” jerseys during camp — how often do you see that for a punter? He will go to any and every charity event he’s asked to attend, and his annual Zolioke karaoke event raised $30,000 this year, money split between Boston Children’s Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Rhode Island.
He also has no problems posting quirky photos of himself on Twitter, such as earlier this year when he was standing in a pool holding his small dog and wearing Speedo-like swim trunks, and he does a spot-on impression of Borat.
All of which is why it is no surprise Mesko was one of several current and former players taking part in the NFL Pro Hollywood Boot Camp during the offseason, learning all aspects of the filmmaking business.
“That was an amazing experience,’’ Mesko said. “First off, the NFL does an amazing job with their post-NFL career kind of transitioning program, but people must take advantage of it. The whole schedule was just filled with amazing people to meet and network with.”
But any career in Hollywood or in money management — in 2011 Mesko interned with a private equity firm — will wait. For now, he is focused on punting, whether he has competition or not.
“I’m always the hardest person on myself, and whether there’s someone here or not, I’m still going to work hard, I still like to take a step back and take it from a 35,000-foot view, look at everything,” Mesko said. “It’s so hard to be honest with yourself but you’ve got to do it because when someone else is honest with you, and it’s too late, then it’s trouble.”Shalise Manza Young can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.