Former SRJC punter is ready for next call: A stint with Atlanta Falcons showed Seth Vernon what it’s like to play in the NFL

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Christian Vieyra

SRJC football team punter Seth Vernon practices his punts at Bailey Field on Nov. 16, trying to stay ready for any opportunity.

Christian Vieyra, Editor

On Aug. 12, the Detroit Lions hosted the Atlanta Falcons in what most football fans called a meaningless preseason game. But for the Falcons’ punter, it was anything but meaningless. With a red ATL stitched across his chest and “Vernon” worn proudly on his back, the former Santa Rosa Stallions, Maria Carrillo Pumas, Santa Rosa Bear Cubs and Portland State Vikings punter took his place under bright lights at Ford Field. 

Four months earlier, Seth Vernon was eagerly watching the 2022 NFL draft with his mother in Santa Rosa. As soon as the last pick was announced, his phone rang. It was the news of a lifetime, direct from Vernon’s agent: the Atlanta Falcons had chosen him to be their punter. It was a done deal. 

“It didn’t really feel real. The dream was always to get [to the NFL]. After investing all this time since fourth grade and being like, ‘This is my passion. This is what I want to do for a career’ and telling everybody around you,” Vernon said, he finally made it — even though he had only focused on punting for two seasons.

When Vernon played Pop Warner in Santa Rosa, he suited up for the Stallions on offense/defense, not on special teams. “My dad made me play lineman. I wanted to play wide receiver,” Vernon said.

As a child, Vernon did as he was told. However during his freshman year at Maria Carrillo, Vernon went behind his dad’s back. For weeks at practice, Vernon laid out on everything from blocks to receptions. “I just started playing wide receiver, and then he came out to my first game and I balled out,” Vernon said. 

In Vernon’s sophomore season, he was pulled up to varsity and asked to punt for the Pumas. His father was long-time friends with SRJC kickers coach Scott Tabor, having worked with him in law enforcement. Tabor was a first team All-American punter at SRJC in 1985, then got a scholarship to Cal where he was first team All-American in 1987 before the Los Angeles Raiders drafted him in 1988. “It’s a hard thing to learn,” Tabor said about punting. 

 Vernon wasn’t on board right away. “I’m just trying to play wide receiver,” he said. “I don’t really care” about punting. 

When Vernon came to SRJC, he shared roles as a wide receiver and punter for the Bear Cubs. “[Tabor] was really pushing me,” he said. Vernon didn’t realize his value as a punter until he attended a Chris Sailer kicking and punting camp in which he dominated, earning a fifth-place ranking by the camp coaches. ”And the top guys before me and the guys under me were committed to Clemson, Alabama. Like these big schools.”

Tabor saw Vernon’s promise. “I knew that if he put the time in, he would be at that level,” the kicking coach said.

 Vernon wasn’t getting interest from any schools as a receiver, which swayed him to commit to punting. “I could really do this, and I’m really enjoying it. I started to fall in love with it and then made the decision to fully go for it.”

However, he didn’t solely focus on punting until transferring to Portland State, the only full-ride offer he had at the end of his Bear Cubs’ career. His time as a Viking consisted of “a lot of challenges, a lot of things that pushed me out of my comfort zone,” he said. “And I was put in a lot of positions where it’s sink or swim.” Vernon credited his parents with teaching him “failing is not an option.”

After Vernon graduated in December of 2021, he felt he was still very raw. “It wasn’t until this offseason, prepping for the draft, being able to come back to work with Scott for a couple months, that I really started to hone in,” he said. 

Pre-draft, Vernon said the Falcons showed the most interest, with multiple conversations. “I kind of had a feeling that I was going to hear from them,” Vernon said. 

During the draft, the Falcons reached out to Vernon and were up front with him; they wanted to draft another punter if he was available. If that punter wasn’t available, they would fly Vernon out for a three-day workout.

Instead, the draft ended without Vernon hearing from any teams, but the Falcons reached a three-year deal with Vernon’s agent right after the draft concluded.

When Vernon landed in Atlanta, his biggest mentor ended up being the player he was competing with for a spot, eight-year veteran punter Bradley Pinion. “Between him and [Younghoe] Koo, those guys taught me everything they knew. There’s not a lot of guys — or environments — in the league that create that situation where we’re both competing to put food on the table, and he’s still willing to coach me up and help me out,” Vernon said of the Falcons punter and kicker. 

Vernon felt prepared for his preseason debut in Detroit. “That was the most confident I felt just because of the support system I had around me,” he said “So I was really able to just sit back and just have fun. I put in so much work during training camp during the offseason.”

Four days after his preseason debut, Vernon was a part of the Falcons’ initial preseason cut down. Atlanta had opted for Pinion.

“Somebody has to go, and that’s just part of the business. It’s not personal,” Vernon said. 

Vernon would receive a document that his contract was closed, “and I got it laminated and in my room…and there’s a box checked out basically just saying ‘you’re not good enough,’” Vernon said. He uses it as a constant reminder to stay motivated. “And what that can do to your mindset if you don’t believe in yourself, that’ll just be it.” 

Tabor believes this is just a bump in the road. “I have full confidence that that kid will be playing for somebody next year,” he said. “There’s four new punters this year in the NFL that all came out this year with Seth. They all made it, and Seth is as good if not better than most of those guys.”

Vernon has continued to work with Tabor while waiting for his next opportunity. But Tabor’s role as a coach has changed. “I just watch him, and he knows what he’s doing wrong and what he’s doing right.”

Patience is key at this point in Vernon’s career. “The way I see it, this is part of the plan. I’ve always been through trials and tribulations and even though this has a different face, it’s just another trial,” Vernon said. “I pray for the opportunity every day, and I know as soon as I get it, I’ll take full advantage of it.”

Gratitude for Tabor’s help is also important. “That dude is everything to me,” Vernon said of the coach who helped him realize his talent. “I’m not in this position without him teaching me everything that he knew, without him supporting me. I mean, the amount of hours that we put in, there’s no way that I could ever pay him back.”

Tabor said Vernon “gets what the NFL is about. We’ve had numerous conversations on what to expect. So when he went into Atlanta this year, he was doing really well,” which was not at all surprising to Tabor. “Nobody outworks that kid,” he said.

SRJC football team punter Seth Vernon chats with young Falcons fan during training camp in Flowery Branch, Georgia. (Courtesy Seth Vernon)