GREENVILLE — Legacy Field is empty on a Friday afternoon, toward the end of July. There isn’t much noise other than the rivets of the flags clanking the flagpoles and some maintenance workers tinkering at Yellow Jacket Stadium.
The tunnel on the north end of the stadium is also eerily quiet, there will be boisterous shouts and excited screams from Greenville’s football players in just a few weeks — but for now, all is quiet.
Ronnie Coluzzi, a native of Naperville, Illinois, unlocks the gate with his wife, Megan, his two young daughters and three bags of gear by his side. Coluzzi has been helping the Yellow Jacket specialists improve their craft over the summer. Megan is from Greenville, originally, and they moved back to the area earlier this year for job opportunities.
Over the past couple of years, Coluzzi has been working several safety management and contracting jobs to put food on the table. He has worked some big safety management jobs, namely Pacific Gas and Electric company that has been blamed for more than 30 wildfires since 2017 — Coluzzi was on the case to help prevent the fires.
Yet, something is missing from Coluzzi’s professional arsenal. He dreams of being a kicker in the National Football League. He’s had tryouts for the Chicago Bears and the Washington Commanders (before the name change)—both of which went without a call.
“It sucked,” Coluzzi said. “It’s what made me so depressed. … I have film of me hitting 65-yard field goals, kickoffs going through the uprights and punts with a 4.8 to 5.1 hang time. So, it definitely doesn’t hurt getting a call to go compete for my dream job — but that’s part of life.”
MAKING DAD PROUD
Ronnie Coluzzi started out playing soccer when he was 6 years old. He’s always had the footwork skills to put himself in a great position to be successful in nearly any sport he wanted to play.
At the age of eight, Coluzzi added playing football to his arsenal. He always gravitated toward football because his dad, Ron Coluzzi, was a huge Chicago Bears fan growing up.
“I had a pretty strong leg from soccer,” the younger Coluzzi said. “When I grew up playing football, I was the only guy that could make extra points. So kicking footballs ended up being a lot of fun. My dad was always awesome growing up, he was always there for me and supported me going to camps learning from the best in the industry.”
Coluzzi went more toward football and put more attention on that field as he went further into his career at Naperville North High School.
He attended camps run by some of the leaders in the business including Chris Sailer and Jamie Coles among others, both nationally and in the Chicago area. He was bought in totally to play football — he was in love with it.
“I loved football more because my dad was into it,” Coluzzi said. “I wanted to make him proud and happy. So, I tried learning from good coaches and trying to be the best I could in football.”
FROM CHIPPEWA TO HAWKEYE
In his final two seasons at Naperville North High School, Coluzzi was the starting kicker and punter and was rated a five-star prospect and the No. 16 prospect nationally by Chris Sailer Kicking.
He was 8-for-10 his senior year with a long of 42 yards. He connected 33-of-34 extra points and was a stellar punter, averaging 39 yards per punt with 18-of-38 kicks downed inside the opponents’ 20-yard line.
Coluzzi ultimately decided to attend Central Michigan University and redshirted in 2012. At first, Coluzzi was a placekicker for the Chippewas. He connected on 12-of-17 field goals and 33-of-35 extra points his freshman year. He kicked well in big games and situations — made all his kicks in his debut and scored all of CMU’s points at Michigan in 2013 and hit a game-winner the next week against New Hampshire as the clock expired.
Eventually, Coluzzi made a switch to becoming the Chippewas’ starting punter and kickoff specialist. He said he’s always been a better punter than he was a placekicker.
Coluzzi was doing well with his kicks — his punts were landing in the right spots and his kickoffs were traveling well. He wanted to get just a little more out of his kicks. Coluzzi started to emulate the pattern of former Chicago Bear kicker Robbie Gould — his touchback numbers improved quickly.
“I was averaging, like, 50% touchbacks,” Coluzzi said. “I switched my kickoff steps and my percentage went up to, like 85% the following year. … Yeah, big Bears fan, big Robbie Gould fan.”
Coluzzi added he emulates Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker for his field goal style and New Orleans Saints punter Thomas Morstead for his punting style.
In his next two years at CMU, Coluzzi’s punting only improved as his averages went up from 37.6 in 2014 to 39.4 in 2015. The Chippe was did well in both seasons, making bowl games in each of the seasons — including the 2014 thriller in the Bahamas Bowl with a game-tying play that featured multiple laterals against Western Kentucky.
After the 2015 season, Coluzzi decided to continue his college football career away from Mount Pleasant. He explored a different opportunity and used his final year of eligibility to transfer to the University of Iowa. He was going to become the Hawkeyes’ punter after two stellar years as the Chippewas’ ace.
Coluzzi had opportunities to play against top teams in the Big Ten, the Big 12 and the Atlantic Coast Conference at CMU. There were big games in the Mid-American Conference, too, but the games against Power 5 opponents just had a different allure to them for Coluzzi.
“When there’s more people in the stands, I just get more pumped up — I feel like I’m just on a better motivational standpoint,” Coluzzi said. “When I was at CMU, I was really pumped up and excited for those bigger stadium games or those bigger teams we played. When I was at Iowa, we played a big team every week. So, it was really easy to stay motivated all season.”
Coluzzi’s numbers went up exponentially in his final season of college football. He ripped 75 punts for the Hawkeyes and averaged 41.1 yards with each kick. Coluzzi finished his college career with an average of 39.6 yards per punt on 182 attempts.
‘MY COME TO JESUS MOMENT’
After Coluzzi’s playing days at Iowa came to an end, he turned his attention to preparing for the NFL Draft and professional tryouts for NFL teams. Draft day was disappointing. His tryouts with the Bears and (then-named) Redskins yielded no results, either.
“I was really depressed once football ended,” Coluzzi said. “I love football so much and I wanted to play in the NFL. It’s been my dream was eight years old.”
Coluzzi had another dream — he wanted to be a husband; he wanted to be a father.
A man of faith, Coluzzi took to prayer after his tryouts. He wanted to meet the woman of his dreams, that would help set him on the right path.
“I pretty much challenged the Lord,” Coluzzi said. “I said, ‘If you’re real, prove it, show me my dream girl. Show me the girl I want to have kids with and start a life with.”
Two months later he went to a music festival in Rothbury with some of his friends. That’s where he met Megan.
Hanging out just once, it was a done deal.
“It was two months after I prayed for my soulmate — that was my come to Jesus moment,” Coluzzi said. “I felt like I knew exactly who she was. I was going to marry her.”
After their marriage, the Coluzzi family headed out to the West Coast where Ronnie became a journeyman lineman in electric distribution and several jobs in the safety management field. Along the way, he was teaching kids how to kick and always gearing up for his next opportunity to live his dream of playing professional football.
“All of those opportunities were rewarding,” Coluzzi said. “I learned a lot through but just ultimately knew that I wanted to pursue football one more time. Being able to train and get in shape for another tryout takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of money so it took a few years to build up what I needed to attack football one more time.”
That is when Coluzzi founded his special teams coaching company, “Coluzzi Kicking.” Other college kickers — namely former Alabama specialist Cody Mandel — started coaching companies to share their knowledge and help players in the youth and high school ranks improve as kickers and punters.
Coluzzi has several students in Michigan. He has one in Cadillac, one in Cedar Springs and two in Greenville. Coluzzi regularly travels back to CMU to kick at the indoor turf facility or at Kelly/Shorts Stadium. He brings some of his students with him to get them experience kicking in new stadiums — a Division I stadium, no less.
“It’s exciting seeing young guys so energetic and have a big smile on their face,” Coluzzi said. “When they see success and their work ethic paying off, it’s rewarding. Being able to work with young guys and teach them everything I know so they can grow to be a better player is the ultimate goal. It’s helping others achieve their dream and nothing to me is more rewarding than that.”
Coluzzi has been helping the Greenville guys with no cost to the players. Coluzzi reached out to Yellow Jackets head coach, Tom Hallock, and mentioned he needed a spot to get on the field and kick. In exchange, he offered his help for the guys at no cost.
A free coaching opportunity from a guy that kicked in the Big Ten and the MAC? Yeah, sign it up. So, Hallock took Coluzzi up on that offer and has been impressed with the results.
“It’s all about the details he talks about, the mental preparation, he’s done a great job coaching a couple of my kids,” Hallock said. “He’s a pretty good kicker himself. He’s kicked some 60-yarders on our field, it’s pretty impressive to see somebody that has that skill be able to do that.
“It’s been really cool for our guys to be able to work with him and do that,” Hallock continued. “Unfortunately, I only had a couple kickers work with him. I wish we had more of our players take advantage of that. At the same time, yes, it’s extremely valuable. He does a terrific job with the kids.”
Coluzzi has been gearing up to make a run at the XFL’s showcase to try and find him a spot in the league that is being revitalized for the third time. He said his body is feeling it, he knows that this is most likely his last run at professional football.
If football doesn’t work out, Coluzzi said he has a different job lined up. He has to provide for his family.
But, God willing, Coluzzi will have his football career jumpstarted one more time.
“That’s the way I’m looking at it,” Coluzzi said. “The right moment, the right time with the right people, the right fit for all the right reasons.”