COLUMBIA — For Missouri punter Jake Harry, the best strategy is "just keep swimming."
"If you let one thing affect you, you're going to let everything affect you," he said. "It's all about staying focused."
Harry said a good punter needs to be like the forgetful fish, Dory, from "Finding Nemo." A punter cannot dwell on past mistakes.
"She always forgets the little things, but she never forgets the big things," he said. "She's always happy. As a punter, you've got to find that."
Harry, who transferred to MU last year but did not earn the starting punting position until this season, said being happy is something he is concentrating on more this time around.
"Last year I put a lot of pressure on myself, and I let that pressure get to me," he said. "Now it's just going out there having fun."
The junior from just outside San Diego, Calif., started school at Oregon State University. When he started to feel homesick and realized he did not have a shot against the punter on scholarship, Harry returned home in spring of 2006. He spent a year at Palomar Community College, where he eventually decided to join the football team and averaged 39 yards per punt.
"When I came back from Oregon State, I wasn't sure how I felt about football anymore," Harry said. "I was feeling down, not sure if I wanted to play, but the coach talked me into it. I did pretty well and doors started to open for me."
MU coaches took notice of Harry at a combine in San Antonio and invited him to campus. Harry said he liked the idea of living in a college town like Columbia and the coaches and facilities impressed him.
"I chose Missouri because it fit me the best," Harry said. "I miss the beach, but I'd rather be here playing football."
Even though senior Adam Crossett beat Harry for the starting position last season, Harry said he felt as though he had a chance — something he said he did not have at Oregon State.
"I wasn't given an opportunity to start out there. They had a guy there on scholarship and it was his position to lose and mine to gain," Harry said. "Here I was given an equal opportunity. It was more fair."
But Harry struggled with consistency and did not enter any games last year. This season without Crossett, who joined the Indianapolis Colts, Harry had to remind coaches why they brought him here. He knew he could not get down on himself if he wanted to grow as a player. Harry said his father helped him mature and develop a different approach to football this time around.
"My dad is my best friend. I talked to him every day," Harry said. "He's not only a physical presence — he taught me how to throw, how to kick — he's also there for me mentally and spiritually."
Countless repetitions and a change in attitude brought Harry to the top of the depth chart. Head coach Gary Pinkel said he has seen a lot of improvement in Harry, but he knows if the offense does its job, Harry never even needs to take a snap.
"If you don't mention his name," Pinkel said, "that means we're going good."
Harry understands the nature of his position and does not have any hard feelings about it.
"The team comes first," Harry said. "Hopefully it doesn't come down to me having to punt all the time. I have no problem being out there, but of course in football it's better if the punter never takes the field.
With two games and seven attempts under his belt at MU, Harry is averaging 43.1 yards per punt. His longest was a 55-yard punt against Southeast Missouri State.
"There's no such thing as perfect," Harry said. "But consistency is the closest thing to it, so we're working on that."
Part of that includes staying in the zone while on the sidelines.
"I try not to get too into the game," Harry said. "Last year I became more of a spectator, but this year I know what I have to do."