Former Oklahoma punter Tress Way is one of the most positive people you'll ever meet, so you'll excuse him for being practically giddy these days.
After what he calls a "redshirt year" in the NFL, learning how to survive as a punter in the league and completely changing his approach to punting, Way is heading up to Chicago next week to begin the process of becoming the Bears' starting punter for the 2014 season and beyond.
Way signed with the Bears after last year's draft, but released on Aug. 25. He worked out for several teams throughout the season, but never latched on anywhere.
"Last year really happened so fast," Way said on Tuesday at the FCA Steve Davis Champions Luncheon in Tulsa. "I was playing Ping-Pong with guys like Devin Hester and Brandon Marshall and Jay Cutler and I was awestruck. Everything was new, everything was a first, from the workouts to the practices, to the way they travel, how incredible it all is. Now, my level of confidence going back, I know exactly what to expect."
The Bears took another shot on him in January, signing him for the upcoming season. When the Bears released Adam Podlesh, the team's punter from 2011-2013, in March, Way became the favorite to earn the starting job. His current competition is Drew Butler, a third-year punter from Georgia, who was the starting punter for Pittsburgh in 2012.
"I'm so blessed I get to go back with the same team," Way said, "which is huge because I know all the coaches, I know all the players."
But what else is so great about being with the Bears, Tress?
"First of all is the pizza," Way said. "The Giordano's deep dish pizza is probably some of the best pizza I've ever had."
In order to become an NFL punter, Way had to completely redo his approach to punting. At OU, Way was a boomer, sending 71 of his 250 career punts over 50 yards with a career-long of 85 yards his sophomore year. However, NFL rules allow only the two gunners to cover a punt all the way down the field, as opposed to everyone being allowed to in college.
"You have to put it in a good direction with good hangtime," Way said. "I also learned—and this was tough for me—that you don't want a punt over 50 yards because you can outkick your coverage. I like hitting the long ball, so that was tough for me."
Instead of sending punts far down the field, Way focused on sending them higher into the atmosphere with precise direction.
"The biggest thing I had to learn was directional punting to the point where now when I go do my workouts and I work out with my little brother (Tulsa punter Cole Way) and his long snapper at TU three times a week, and every single one of my punts is directional," Way said. "It is such a drastic change from just letting it rain in college to having to put it exactly where you want it in the pros."
Learning that precision took many reps, but Way said that's the only way to learn how to be a great directional punter. Eventually, he said, it just becomes second nature.
"It's just a level of faith where you trust what you're doing," Way said. "Getting to that point, very tough, but once you're there it's an awesome place to be."
Way may be focused on the NFL, but a more important milestone is fast approaching for him before training camp even begins. On July 5, Way and former OU softball player Brianna Turang will get married. Fortunately for the wedding, Way says he's been focusing more on punting than wedding planning.
"Yeah, definitely Bri needs to handle more of that anyway," Way said with a laugh. "Some of the ideas I've thrown out, she's like, ‘Absolutely not, that makes no sense,' but as a dude, you'd think it would be kind of cool."
Way said Turang's support has allowed him to pursue his dream of playing in the NFL and that they've been able to figure out all the details of their wedding through phone calls and texts.
"We've got our dream wedding planned," Way said. "We're having an awesome ceremony and a cool reception with barbecue and all our family and friends so it's all worked out to be this dream wedding of ours."
Turang is currently in nursing school at Oklahoma City University, studying "the hardest I've seen anyone study," according to Way. Soon enough, the couple will move away from the windy plains of Oklahoma and up to the Windy City.
"Once she finishes school, we're going to pack up shop and move up to Chicago, hopefully for a good, long career," Way said. "Home is definitely in Oklahoma and we'll be back to Oklahoma once it's all said and done. We're just planning on making a stop in Chicago for a good 8-12 years."
That's plenty of confidence for someone who hasn't earned the starting job yet, but Way is simply a positive and confident person. You can't blame him for that.