By Lisa Zimmerman, Player Engagement Insider
Craig Colquitt was working in a local department store in his hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee when a seemingly innocuous newspaper ad changed the trajectory of his life and created what would become a family legacy.
Two years out of high school, where, like his father, Lester, he had been a punter on the football team, Craig saw an ad placed by the University of Tennessee looking for a punter. His career in the china department wasn’t looking promising, so he responded to the ad. The Volunteers put him on the team and ultimately gave him a full scholarship. When Craig told his parents, they were both overcome with emotion.
“My mom and dad both cried when I told them I got a full scholarship,” he said. “The look on their faces when I told them I was going to walk-on at Tennessee was enough of a motivator.”
In the 1930s, when Lester was punting for his high school team and then subsequently for a semi-pro Navy team, he couldn’t have dreamt of what was to come. Married at 17, he never had the chance to attend college. After World War II he became a police officer and, with his wife, Jewell, raised five children.
Things for this humble, country family became even more surreal when, in 1978, Craig was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the third round of the NFL Draft.
“I couldn’t imagine (that world),” Craig said. “When I was picked up at the airport and we’re driving through the tunnels in Pittsburgh, all I saw was yellow smoke coming out of the factories and I thought, this is for real. I’m in a whole new city. I’m a country boy; This is bigger than I thought it was.”
Within two years, as a member of that historic Steelers team, Craig had two Super Bowl rings. He ultimately played six years for the Steelers and played a final year, in 1987, for the Indianapolis Colts.
By that time, Craig and his wife, Anne, had two boys of their own, Dustin (b. 1982) and Britton (b. 1985). Dustin, now the punter for the Kansas City Chiefs (Britton serves in the same capacity for the Cleveland Browns), has vague memories of the later years in Pittsburgh. One of his prized possessions is a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball signed by Steelers owner Art Rooney, who wrote, “One day you’ll be a superstar.” There is also a favorite family photo of a very young Dustin relieving himself on the Three Rivers Stadium turf after a game.
When Craig was done playing, the family settled back in Knoxville. Craig worked in a variety of businesses and is now a budding artist. An art major at Tennessee, has always dabbled in painting, including winning an NFL art contest during his playing career with his winning piece being displayed at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Unfortunately, the painting disappeared while in the Hall’s custody and three decades later there has never been a sign of it.
Aside from his painting hobby, he initially picked jobs that allowed him the time to watch his boys plays sports. During those early years in Knoxville, Dustin and Britton gravitated toward soccer. In fact, as children they barely watched football on television because their soccer schedules conflicted. However, Britton knew early on that football was something he wanted to pursue, after all, it was the family business.
“In school, the teacher would say, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ and I would say, ‘I want to play in the NFL. People would laugh and the teacher would say, ’Seriously, what do you want do you want to be?’ But I grew up seeing the Steel Curtain and pictures and autographs, so it was just normal. I think when kids have parents who’ve played in the NFL, it’s normal.”
It was Britton who attended all his father’s kicking camps and started playing football as soon as he got into high school. And he has always appreciated Craig’s input, which has been helpful, but not overbearing.
“Dad is totally cool. If he sees something he might say it, but he doesn’t want to be that guy,” Britton said.
Dustin didn’t attend those kicking camps, He describes soccer as his “first love” and, had his high school team not been in desperate need of a kicker during his senior season, he may never have ended up in an NFL uniform. But from the moment he joined the team, he was all in. And so was Craig.
“Dad took lunches off to kick with me,” Dustin said. “He would say, ‘You never came to my kicking camps, so we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Throughout those years, Lester (who passed away in 2002) had a presence that never faded. Even when both Dustin and then Britton were excelling at punting, first in high school and following in Craig’s footsteps at Tennessee, people would approach them and say, “Lester could out-kick you any day.”
Like his father, Dustin eventually walked-on on at Tennessee and then earned a scholarship. His stats at Tennessee were solidly embedded between his father, and his cousin, Jimmy Colquitt who preceded him as Tennessee’s punter. (There are several other Colquitts who have punted at the college level as well.)
And who better to follow Dustin as the Vols punter than Britton. Britton excelled like his family before him and the top four punters in Tennessee history, in order, are Jimmy, Britton, Dustin and Craig.
Dustin followed in his father’s footsteps again by being a third-round Draft pick when the Chiefs selected him in 2005. Legal issues in college affected Britton’s draft status, but in 2009 he signed with the Denver Broncos as an undrafted rookie free agent and stayed there through the team’s Super Bowl win in 2015.
Britton’s championship ring officially made Dustin, (who holds the family record for longest family punt with 81 yards), the odd man out.
“Now I get introduced as the only Colquitt who doesn’t have a Super Bowl ring,” Dustin said with a laugh.
And leave it to the dad to tweak his elder son about the absence of that ring. “Dustin doesn’t have a jealous bone in his body, but man is he jealous of his little brother [about that],” Craig said.
Dustin’s kids don’t help matters; They keep asking when their dad is getting a ring.
Those kids number five – four boys and a girl. Add in Britton’s three – two girls and a boy, and there’s already a lot of promise in the next generation of Colquitts, a few of whom are already punting and are captivated by it.
“They watch the whole football game closely,” Dustin said. “But when there’s a punt or a kick they say, ‘Everyone be quiet.’ It’s like handing down a family business. If we can get that third generation of Colquitts punting at Tennessee, that would be cool.”
Lisa Zimmerman is a long-time NFL writer and reporter. She was the Jets correspondent for CBSSports.com, SportsNet New York’s TheJetsBlog.com and Sirius NFL Radio. She has also written for NFL.com.