FOXBORO, Mass. — At some point this weekend, Zoltan Mesko could walk along Newbury Street on a busy morning and likely not get recognized. This time next year, the budding Boston cult hero won't enjoy the luxury of such privacy.
Mesko, a left-footed punter from Michigan, was the Patriots' fifth-round pick in last week's NFL draft, and he's got the distinguishable name, unique personality and athletic ability to win the hearts of New England fans.
His impact had already been felt in Ann Arbor, Mich., where his passionate following had nicknamed him "The Space Emperor of Space," which is a clear nod to a punter who they believed landed on Earth after spending infinite millennia battling mutant aliens equipped with Photon Accelerator Annihilation Beams in a fight for galactic supremacy. Obviously.
"It's kind of weird for me to be known as a punter," Mesko said. "Yeah, I have a weird name that's easily recognizable or recallable, but I'm trying to be myself, doing my thing. The fans just kind of took to it. It wasn't my doing in any way, shape or form. I was being myself. It kind of just happened on its own. I'm very thankful it happened because I'm receptive of all things that come my way."
What he meant was: Chuck Norris, Jack Bauer, Sir William Wallace, meet Zoltan Mesko, whose cumulative punting average will only suffer when his powerful left leg pops the football upon impact. That is, of course, only if those scorekeepers want to Mesko with the Zoltan.
The Nicknamed One has also been tabbed as "Zoltan the Inconceivable" and "Zoltamus Prime," among a mess of other labels. Mesko does have one favorite, though.
"I like to stay humble about it, but 'The Emperor of Space' is too funny to pass up," Mesko said. "It's just, like, where do people come up with that stuff?"
Mesko also speaks four languages — Hungarian, Romanian, German and English — and he said he first dunked a basketball in the eighth grade. (We'll just assume that's just when he first chose to dunk, anyway.) And his father was also a professional bowler, in case you were wondering.
Mesko, who is 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, is uniquely monstrous for his position. He bench pressed 225 pounds 16 times at the draft combine, which tied him for 175th out of the 248 players who attempted the drill. His 16 reps put him on par with Patriots draft picks Devin McCourty and Taylor Price, as well as Bengals draftee Jordan Shipley. It was also one more rep than Saints pick Patrick Robinson.
It's also a mortal lock that Mesko will make the team. Pats head coach Bill Belichick said prior to the draft he wouldn't select a specialist unless it was believed the player would have a great chance to earn a spot on the roster. That strategy has been successful in the past with kicker Stephen Gostkowski and long snapper Jake Ingram.
Mesko, whose family moved from Romania to America when he was 12 years old, averaged a Michigan-record 44.5 yards per boot last season, and he was also the first punter in program history to be recognized as a team captain.
Apparently, there's nothing Mesko can't do. But he does have one form of kryptonite, which he'll be forced to conquer quickly.
"If I run into Tom Brady, I might be a little star-struck to say hello to him," Mesko said before being made aware his locker stall would be adjacent to Brady's. "I'm sure I'll get over that. I'd love to get to know Tom Brady. He's a special person."
For sure, a three-time Super Bowl champion and an NFL MVP. But Brady is no Space Emperor of Space. Only one man can hold that claim.
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