CANTON, Ohio — Backed up against his own end zone in the first quarter, Matt Mengel unleashed a heck of a punt right into the wind. It traveled at least 60 yards in the air down the field. So when he saw that his team, the Pittsburgh Maulers, had been flagged for a false start, he was a little disappointed that he had to kick it again.
But boy, did he ever kick it again.
Mengel, the Maulers’ 29-year-old punter, boomed the punt of his life on a fourth-and-29 from the Pittsburgh 12 very early in their 19-7 win over the Michigan Panthers on Saturday. With his left leg planted at his own 3-yard line when he let the kick fly, it didn’t come down until it bounced at the Panthers’ 17. When Panthers receiver Kaden Davis finally fielded it off the second bounce at the 5, it officially became an 83-yard punt.
It also traveled a remarkable 80 yards in the air.
"It just left my foot perfect," Mengel said. "It felt great."
It looked great too, which is why it almost immediately became a viral sensation on social media. Within a few hours, the video on the Maulers’ Twitter account had been viewed more than 175,000 times. It was nearly historic two, falling just two yards short of the USFL’s modern record, which was set when New Jersey’s Brock Miller boomed a punt 85 yards last June.
As impressive as Miller’s kick was, though, it actually rolled the final 21 yards. Mengel’s kick — again, into the wind — was almost all air.
"It’s a good feeling," Mengel told FOX Sports about his viral moment. "Because I’ve put in a lot of hard work to get to this point. I’ve had a ton of ups and a ton of downs. I’ve had moments where I’ve been performing exceptionally well, like in the CFL, and I still was let go for some reason. So just to see that all my hard work of having success on the field is being highlighted and respected, it feels good, yeah."
There haven’t been many moments like this for Mengel as he’s spent the last eight years chasing his pro football dream. After punting for two seasons at UCLA in 2014-15 he couldn’t get the attention of the NFL at all. He kept trying and mostly failing until he was drafted in the 32nd round of the 2022 USFL draft by the Philadelphia Stars. He actually handled both their kicking and punting duties for four games last season until they cut him to sign NFL veteran Luis Aguilar instead.
After that, Mengel headed north to the CFL, where he was cut from the Montreal Alouettes after their training camp and resurfaced with the Edmonton Eskimos where he punted for six games. Then he returned to the USFL in Pittsburgh this year.
Considering his obvious leg strength, it’s remarkable that in all that time he’s hardly gotten any looks at all from the NFL. Mengel said he’s been to workouts when teams were looking for injury replacements — including ones last season with the Miami Dolphins, the Indianapolis Colts and the Jacksonville Jaguars. But he’s never been signed. He’s never spent a day on an NFL practice squad, been of an offseason program, or even gotten an invite to a training camp in the league.
"No," he said. "Not a single one."
But he still hasn’t given up on his dream.
"Oh yeah, I’m living my dream right now," he said. "If you look at all the punters and kickers in the NFL right now, they’re all between 29-to-36 years old and they’re all still going. Dude, I feel very healthy. I’m big. I’m very strong. I’m fast. I just feel like I could play this for another 10 years."
He certainly looked that way on Saturday. He punted seven times, dropping four of them inside the 20. His only miss was a 19-yarder he shanked in the final two minutes of the game. The rest of his punt got the job done and more. And the 83-yarder was a thing of beauty, sending the returner running 20-plus yards in the wrong direction and getting his team out of an early, dire situation.
And the viral video of that happens to get the attention of an NFL scout, coach or general manager somewhere? That would be great. That’s still the opportunity that Mengel is chasing, even if he is perfectly happy to keep doing exactly what he’s doing right now.
"This is my NFL," he said. "Until it happens, I’m living the dream right now."
Ralph Vacchiano is the NFC East reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. He spent the previous six years covering the Giants and Jets for SNY TV in New York, and before that, 16 years covering the Giants and the NFL for the New York Daily News. Follow him Twitter at @RalphVacchiano.