Eric Guthrie is a former all-state punter from Nevada who went on to start at punter for Iowa in 2011 and earn an NFL tryout with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Guthrie is the son of Gary and Nancy Guthrie, of Nevada. He graduated from Nevada in 2007.
In addition to his outstanding high school football career, Guthrie was also an all-conference performer in basketball and baseball. He walked on at Iowa in 2007 and by his senior year, was the starting punter for the Hawkeyes, earning all-Big 10 honorable mention recognition by the AP and conference coaches and third-team all-conference recognition by Phil Steele.
Guthrie was also named a team captain in his senior year at Iowa. He won the Forest Evashevski Scholastic Achievement Award, Reggie Roby Special Teams Award, Big 10 Conference Football Sportsmanship Award and the Polk County I-Club Coaches Appreciation Ward and was also named Academic All-Big 10.
Guthrie earned a tryout with Tampa Bay in the NFL from May through August 2012. He is currently the assistant strength and conditioning coach at the University of Illinois-Chicago and lives in Chicago with his fiancee, Krissy Sassorossi.
Guthrie decided to discuss his athletic career at Nevada and Iowa, his NFL tryout and life as a strength and conditioning coach in the Windy City with the Nevada Journal.
Questions are in bold and are followed by Guthrie’s responses
When did you take the assistant strength and conditioning coach position at Illinois-Chicago?
I started as a volunteer intern in the summer of 2013. I was fortunate enough in the fall of 2013 they had a part-time position open, and I took it. The previous assistant left the next summer and I was able take over the full time position in August of 2014.
What are your duties as coach?
As assistant strength and conditioning coach I work directly with women’s soccer, women’s volleyball, and men’s and women’s swimming and diving. I am responsible for designing and implementing their strength and conditioning programs. So, it ranges from lifting weights, speed and agility drills, jumping, and conditioning drills. I also design and sometimes lead their warmups before training and competitions. With women’s soccer, I help collect and analyze data on our PlayerMaker system which tracks their movements and distance while they play. I work with these three sports currently, but in the past I have worked with women’s basketball, women’s tennis, men’s tennis, women’s gymnastics, men’s gymnastics, men’s and women’s track and field and women’s golf. In addition to working directly with these teams I have assisted with baseball, softball, men’s soccer and men’s basketball.
What do you like best about your job so far?
I love getting to see people improve. One of the beautiful things about strength and conditioning is that it is objective and measurable. You know exactly where you are when you begin in terms of strength, power, and speed. You can also see those areas improve quickly when you put in the work. Everything in my area comes down to effort, attitude and attention to detail. It is very rewarding to see someone come in as a freshman and they have never stepped foot in a weight room then see them leave as a senior and they’ve improved tremendously physically, but more so psychologically. Gaining confidence is a huge part of it.
What got you into strength training?
I was always fascinated with improvement and the process of improving. I was always trying new things to try to get better at the sports I played. I did some strength training in high school but it was not very focused or structured. If I knew what I know now I would have just been more consistent and put more effort into the lifting that we were doing, but that is part of the learning process. Taking Mr. Lawler’s anatomy and physiology class my junior year of high school definitely piqued my interest in the human body and confirmed my thought that I wanted to be a strength and conditioning coach.
What was your major at Iowa?
Health and sport studies.
What did you enjoy most about the university outside of the football program?
I think my favorite part was the city of Iowa City, especially in the summer where it was more relaxed. I put 5,000 miles on my moped over the course of my five years in Iowa City, and in the summer, I would often go on joy rides around town just exploring new areas.
What was it like to earn a scholarship as a walk-on?
To earn a scholarship was a nice bonus after starting as a walk-on, but to me the real reward was the opportunity to play and contribute after improving so much from my first year. What makes Iowa’s walk-on program so successful is they truly treat the walk-ons just like everyone else. They see the value in developing them and if they earn the opportunity they give it to them.
What was playing for Coach Ferentz like?
Coach Ferentz is one of the highest-character people I’ve ever been around. I cannot speak highly enough of him. Early on in my time in the program you don’t interact with him directly often, but he takes the time to meet with each player at least yearly, and he even took my advice on integrating more game-like scenarios during practice for special teams. This shows his humility and how he values each person in the program.
How did it feel to be on the 2009 Orange Bowl team?
The 2009 season was pretty special to be a part of and it was a good year of growth for me as a player as well. That team was clicking on all cylinders and some of my best memories are from that season.
What do you feel were the main reasons behind your rise to becoming the starting punter at Iowa in 2011?
Honestly, it was failure that drove me to improve enough to start in 2011. After spring practice in 2010 my position coach said I should maybe think about graduating and moving on with my life and that they were going to recruit a scholarship punter. I took that as motivation and got to work. In preseason camp of 2010 after a summer of working my butt off I came in and not only outperformed the new guy they brought in to replace me, but outperformed the incumbent starter and future NFL punter Ryan Donahue. I knew I wasn’t going to start in front of Ryan (and didn’t deserve it on his success and track record) but it gave me the confidence to perform the next year under pressure.
Did you ever imagine you would be starting and a team captain for a Big 10 football power?
Starting? Yes, absolutely. If you go to Iowa and don’t envision yourself starting and making an impact, you are in the wrong mind-set and the wrong place. In regards to being a team captain, it was never my goal but I just tried to be the best leader I could be by setting a positive example of hard work and conscientiousness.
How did it feel to win all those all-conference and team awards as a senior?
Any awards I won were really a credit to my punt coverage team. The talent on that punt team was insane. My long snapper was Casey Kreiter (NFL Pro Bowler and just signed a free agent contract with New York Giants), my gunners were Jordan Bernstine (multiple years in NFL with Washington Redskins) and Micah Hyde (played for Green Bay Packers and now with Buffalo Bills). There were many other great players who contributed to leading the Big Ten in net punting that year.
What are your favorite memories as part of the football team?
My all-time favorite memory is beating Penn State in 2008 on Daniel Murray’s field goal. The “Greene” out for Shonn Greene, beating a top-three team on a last-second field goal and then the fans rushing the field was insane. I ran for Murray to protect him, and we got rushed by thousands of fans. It took us 30 minutes to get back to the locker room, and I had guys head-butting me while I was wearing a helmet and they were not!
How was your NFL tryout experience?
I would say my NFL experience was interesting. I was with Tampa Bay from May through August of 2012. They had a first-year head coach in Greg Schiano and he definitely did not adjust to the NFL way coming from a successful college program in Rutgers. It also isn’t as glamorous as one would think. We had 12-hour days as rookies all summer and only got paid about $325 a week. You might sign a league minimum contract (which at the time was $410,000 a year) but you only see that money if you are active roster and play in the regular season. Most people don’t realize that players get 17 game checks and that is essentially it for the big money. So you have got to make those 17 checks last for a whole year. I was fortunate that Tampa Bay gave me a great opportunity to play in the preseason. I played in three games and got to punt 12 times. I also got to hold for field goals and PATs which I did not do in college. I got a great opportunity and have no regrets on my career and how it ended.
Did you ever imagine being a kid from a small town like Nevada that you would get a shot at the NFL?
Absolutely! I refused to be realistic or have a plan B. I felt that way I had no option but to make it to the NFL.
Who were your biggest influences from back home in Nevada?
My biggest influences were probably my parents, Robbie Handsaker, who coached us in basketball starting in fifth grade and taught me the importance of fundamentals, Joel Fey, who coached us in high school basketball and taught me the importance of being prepared (we always had the best scouting reports and would often know the opposing teams plays before they even ran them) and Dave McCaulley who coached us in football and taught me not to put limits on myself and believed in me to play at the next level (even if he is a huge ISU fan).
How did Nevada help prepare you for your journey to being a Hawkeye and getting a crack at the NFL?
I think being able to play multiple sports growing up and not having to choose to specialize was very important to building my athletic abilities and led to my success at Iowa and beyond. Often now youth sports emphasize specialization and I believe this is absolutely the wrong answer for developing high-level athletes and people. The outliers like Tiger Woods blind people to the vast majority of athletes who burn out and get hurt because they only do one sport. So being from a small town where it was necessary to play multiple sports benefitted me in the long run instead of being from a large city where it might not have been possible to do the same.
What are your favorite sports memories from being a Cub?
I think I have the most sports memories from basketball. Our senior year, we had a great year and was probably the best team I’ve ever played on at any level. We still talk about many of those games and memories from that year.
How often do you get to come back home?
I don’t get to come home often enough. My parents and grandfather still live out on the farm so I try to come home when I can, but my work schedule keeps me busy during most of the year. I try to get home over the winter holidays and during the summer once or twice. It is an easy drive from Chicago, but I don’t have a car so I usually rent one.
How’s life been treating you in Chicago?
Chicago is great and the last seven years in my life I’ve grown a lot here. It is awesome in the summer especially, but with the COVID-19 it’s not near as fun as the main reasons to live in Chicago are the food and enjoying the lake, etc.
You are currently engaged - have you and your wife set a date yet?
We were set to have a wedding this August, but we decided to postpone until 2021 to give us some certainty in this uncertain time. It is disappointing, but we are excited to celebrate with our family and friends next year when hopefully life is a little more normal.
When did you grow your beard in and what made you decide to sport it?
I started growing it for six months in the fall of 2014. Shaved it the spring of 2015 to surprise my Grandma Guthrie, then immediately started growing it back. I have had a beard continuously since summer 2015. My boss at UIC, Nick Zostautas, has a huge beard so we joke that it is part of the job description. Krissy has never seen my chin so while we are under the stay at home order I recently significantly shaved down my beard so she could see it. For now, I’m growing it back and it’s kind of part of the strength coach “outfit!”