Anthony Lotti left home prepared. He knew it was going to take some acclimation after graduating from West Hall High and going on to kick for the football program at the University of Wisconsin.
It started with a “freshman survival cheat sheet” gifted by father Tony Lotti, his high school coach with the Spartans and the source of inspiration for picking up the position they both love.
While Tony often does that for any of his senior players, Anthony’s was just a little more in-depth. The booklet covered all bases: Being on time, balancing schedules, and understanding a freshman’s place on a football team.
Just some invaluable advice from one punter to another.
“When you’re a kid, you think you know everything and your parents don’t know anything. And it’s not until you’re a parent that you realize just how smart your parents are,” laughed Tony. “I like to think some of my experiences are gonna be able to help him. And I encouraged him too to pay close attention to what the older guys are doing.”
Anthony Lotti’s actions have done all the talking as the newbie on campus this college football season. He won the starting job over redshirt sophomore P.J. Rosowski in August and thrived in his first year with the Badgers.
Father Tony was there for every step of the way, even flying to the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 2 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. He watched intently as one of Anthony’s punts was downed at the 3-yard-line to start the fourth quarter against Western Michigan, setting up teammate T.J. Edwards for a pivotal interception at the 12.
The pick set up the Badgers’ final score.
“It’s not too often a freshman punter starts,” Anthony said. “So it’s really cool to be able to pin them on the 3 (yard line) in a big-time bowl game.”
Lotti had three punts for a 40-yard average in Wisconsin’s 24-16 win.
Lotti entered Badgers camp primarily as a coffin-corner punter, but had to quickly grasp a rugby-inspired Australian technique. It since then has become a useful tool in his punting arsenal.
“It’s really been a great process,” said Anthony, who has spent the last week home catching up on some family time in South Hall.
“It was a struggle at first, starting off at camp and being a freshman punter. “Of course, it’s going to be rough. But the guys really took me in, took me under their wing. It was a really fun experience, after I got those first few punts out of the way, it really took hold.”
He punted the ball 51 times for the Badgers in 2016, averaging almost 38 yards per kick.
THE PASSING OF THE TORCH
Already a spitting image of his father, it was only natural for Anthony to learn the punting trade.
“My dad has been training me ever since I can remember,” said Anthony. “He’s always wanted me to be a punter, and I’ve always wanted to be a punter in his footsteps.”
Tony Lotti was an All-American punter at Division II Tennessee-Wesleyan University (Athens, Tenn.) before becoming a coach full-time in the 90s, never wavering in his love of the craft of kicking.
Luckily in those early coaching years, Anthony was by his side.
“It just sort of happened,” he said. “I just loved being around him and I wanted to be there for him. So with me coaching full time — and I’ve always trained punters and kickers — Anthony would always jump in and go with me (to practices).”
Flashes of Anthony’s potential followed. What started as 5-year-old Anthony shagging footballs for the coaches quickly changed to one-on-one sessions with dad.
“I would throw in a correction here or there. He seemed to like it,” West Hall’s coach said of his young son. “It was me and the kid tossing the ball around, except we were doing it with our feet.”
Anthony’s fondness for the position grew in middle school, and eventually progressed to a full-time gig at West Hall by his junior year.
“He realized he could carry on that tradition, and he realized that he’s got the ability his dad had,” said Debbie Lotti, the matriarch of the family. “And he had a good coach in his dad. That worked wonders knowing there was somebody close by and could help him any minute of any day.”
It was a grueling process, but Anthony’s development finally blossomed into two breakout seasons as the Spartans’ full-time punter in high school, averaging a shade more than 45 yards per attempt to earn back-to-back First-Team All-State honors as a junior and senior.
Ranked eighth nationally going into his senior season, Lotti captured the attention of Wisconsin’s coaches while attending a showcase at Boston College the summer of 2015, where he competed against roughly 100 kids and beat them all.
“He’s worked really hard. It’s a very lonely thing to train (as a punter), and takes a long time to train,” Tony said.
It wasn’t so much as passing the torch, but getting to spend that quality time with his son that Tony remembers the most.
“The joy was just being around the kid all the time. Thank goodness he decided he liked football, you know?” Tony said with a giggle. “Hopefully he’ll look back on it and think of those times the same way.”
FLIPPING THE SWITCH
Flipping the switch from coach to father, and player to son, was a difficult transition for the Lotti household, Anthony’s freshman and sophomore being the toughest.
“I wasn’t driving then, so after practice I would have to hear from him on the way home,” Anthony said. “He got a lot better at it, just turning off ‘coach mode’ and turning on ‘dad mode.’ “So it was nice.”
It was not until Anthony’s senior season when a line was drawn. Tony made it clear that once the pair left the football field, he was dad.
“I was given an opportunity to ‘take your son to work day’ every day for those four years, and it was coming to an end. I wanted to enjoy it as much as I could,” coach Lotti said.
“Do a better job of smelling the roses along the way, you know, enjoy the little things — the conversations after practice, to not let miss out on the great part of the relationship that I feel football gives.”
The 20 minutes Lotti would get with his son, often after road games this season, involved discussing events back home.
“Even though I wanted to say in one game, ‘Hey, you’re doing this wrong,’” laughed Lotti. “I didn’t do it unless he asked me for it. I try to leave him alone and try to let him find his way.”
Debbie said from time to time, Anthony still reaches out to “coach Lotti” for some pointers.
“They’ll go through film together on Facetime and Tony would show him on the television ‘Look how you did this,’ and ‘Look how you did that.’ So they still do the coaching part too, but the dad part has definitely come back,” she said.
GETTING TO WISCONSIN
Lotti found humor in the fact local colleges’ would pitch the “parent” card in attempts to flip Anthony’s commitment from Wisconsin during the recruitment process.
Lotti recalled one telling Anthony: “But with (your dad’s) job, he’ll never be able to get to Wisconsin to watch you play.”
“I’ve been pretty good about finding a way,” Lotti said. “Because when you’re committed to something, you’ll find a way to make it happen.”
Six months worth of plotting, budgeting and charting the cheapest airfare solidified Lotti’s game plan. For 12 weeks, he caught the 5:30 a.m. Saturday red eye, just hours after coaching the Spartans on Friday nights, in order to catch a glimpse of Anthony’s No. 15 jersey at Camp Randall Stadium, home of the Badgers in Madison, Wisconsin.
He never missed a game.
“I don’t think anybody would believe me If I told them how I did it,” laughed Lotti.
The most difficult leg of this 1,800-plus mile trip wasn’t so much the lack of sleep or excessive amounts of caffeine consumed. It was just getting to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, quipped Lotti.
“He was determined because his dad always went to his games in college,” Debbie said. “He was determined to be there for every one of Anthony’s games.”
The entire Lotti household showed their support in any way possible, even embarking on a nine-hour drive with the whole family — wife Debbie, sisters Antonia, Anissa to the Big Ten Championship in Indianapolis Dec. 4. For the Cotton Bowl, Anthony’s parents, sisters and some extended family were in the stands, proudly wearing their “Punters are People too” T-shirts.
“I am very grateful to have a dad like him,” Anthony said. “He really does his best to take care of his job at home, and then he hops on the red eye and comes to my games. It really means a lot to me.”
Lotti’s Spartans advanced to the second round of the state playoffs for the first time in 16 years. Getting to see his son run through a tunnel dressed in cardinal red and white, however, may be the biggest reward for this head coach.
“You fight back those tears because you know, his whole life. You know how hard we worked to get there, and to get his shot. To see him living his dreams on that kind of stage, it’s a pretty special blessing that I am just very fortunate to be able to sit here and watch him, and wear his No. 15.”