The "oohs" and the "ahhs" coming from rapt players on the sideline during Portland State's special teams practice are the first sign that something truly special is taking place on the field.
The resting football players, normally mostly uninterested during special teams drills, follow the high spiraling arc of the ball as the punt returner quickly backsteps, realizing he has greatly underestimated junior punter Kyle Loomis' leg.
That scene only happened a few times this fall before Loomis' teammates realized what the rest of the college football world is quickly learning: Loomis can kick ... far.
"He's got a ridiculous leg," former Vikings punter Thomas Duyndam said. "He's got this raw power. He's not one of those guys who gets his leg up super high, but when he connects with the ball you hear that 'thud' and he's got so much power in his stroke that the ball just shoots off his foot."
Through four games, Loomis is averaging 46.8 yards per punt — the second most of anyone at the FCS level and well beyond the Portland State school season record of 42.8 set by John Kincheloe in 1979. His feats have earned him the nickname "Boomis" from his teammates. Coach Nigel Burton said he prefers "He-Man."
Loomis is not a superhero, but the series of events that brought him here reads like a modern-day hero's quest.
SEVEN YEARS AGO, Loomis looked like he was on top of the world. Following a stellar career as the kicker at Roseburg High School, where he was first-team all-state punter his junior and senior years, Loomis put up great numbers during his freshman season at Oregon State. He averaged 41.3 yards per punt and was named third-team All-America by Sporting News.
The only problem? Loomis wasn't happy. Feeling overwhelmed and unsure of his direction, Loomis quit the team, citing "personal reasons."
"I was just kind of sick of everything," he said. "I just needed a change."
AFTER A YEAR of trying to figure things out, Loomis joined the Army. He served almost four years in the 2-325 Airborne Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division in Fort Bragg, N.C., before receiving a discharge related to multiple ankle injuries.
"I didn't really get to do what I trained to do (because of injuries), so that was kind of a letdown," he said. "But you take what you can get — I took the positive."
Loomis left the Army in February 2012 and returned to Roseburg, planning to take some time off before pursuing his degree and a career in law enforcement.
"I literally had not kicked or punted a ball for like six years," he said. "The only time I did it was maybe on the beach with my Army buddies."
Then he started helping a family friend work on punting and realized he still had the ability.
Loomis emailed Burton, introducing himself, explaining what he had been doing and letting him know he'd probably be enrolling at Portland State to pursue a degree in criminology.
"If you guys need a punter, let me know," he said. "I'll probably be coming anyway."
Burton had been the secondary coach at Oregon State during Loomis' year and remembered his big leg. He put Loomis in touch with his special teams coach and a few months later, Loomis was enrolled and on campus for spring football.
BURTON THOUGHT HE knew what he was getting in Loomis, but quickly learned otherwise.
"When he came to my office he was a totally different person," Burton said. "The guy I remembered was squirrelly and uncomfortable — he didn't even look good in pads. When that guy walked in, that was a full-grown man."
"When you join the Army at 20, you have a little life experience, but you really don't have very much, so you grow," Loomis said.
Loomis had grown into a disciplined, mature and confident man. At 26, he is the Vikings' oldest player. Despite his time away, he has two years of eligibility because his clock stopped during service time.
MICHAEL CASCO, the Vikings' assistant special teams coach, saw the potential watching a rusty Loomis boot his first punts during spring practice.
"You could see how much power he had with his leg, but you could also see that his technique needed a lot of work because he hadn't punted in (a long time)," he recalled. "My first thought was, holy cow, if we can get him to be consistent, he could be one of the best for sure in the conference, if not in the country."
Getting his leg strength back proved easier than Loomis had imagined. By the middle of fall practice, Loomis' biggest obstacle was dealing with his teammates' raised expectations. "I'll have like a 43-yard or even a 47-yard punt and I'll come off and everybody will be like, 'What was that?'" he said.
"I'll tell them that wasn't necessarily the worst thing in the world!" He laughed. "You can't be looking for a 55-yarder or 60-yarder every time!"
NEXT WEEK LOOMIS will turn 27, a day after starting fall classes. He took a full course load over the summer and said he is enjoying being back in school. As little as 10 months ago, football wasn't even on his mind. Now he is focused on honing his technique and leading the conference in punting. He knows he has a chance to break records and seems motivated by the challenge.
Burton said Loomis' 46.8-yard average has been hindered by a number of situations where he had to pooch punt because of field position.
"His ceiling is much higher," he said. "If we can get him where he can actually change the field, that number will go through the roof."