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Ravens' competitive fire extends to cornhole tournament

Sunday - 11/4/2012, 1:49am  ET

ravenscornhole512.jpg
This image from the Ravens cornhole Twitter account shows the team's passion for the game. (Courtesy of Ravens Cornhole via Twitter)

Greg Bianco, wtop.com

OWINGS MILLS, Md. On the football field, the Ravens have a cavalcade of combative personalities that has served the franchise well. Inside the team's locker room, there's a special, connected camaraderie.

While a few dozen players know how to play the sport of football, that isn't what truly binds them. A couple of pieces of painted plywood with cut-out holes and some bean bags do the trick.

Though it has a variety of names, cornhole has entered its third season in the Ravens locker room and there's an undisputed but thoroughly competitive leader of the recently-discovered sport.

To fully understand the rise to cornhole stardom, a person must first appreciate its history. Punter Sam Koch grew up in Seward, Neb., which is home to the world's largest time capsule established some 40 years ago. That capsule is still the talk of the town.

"Our own little historic monument," he brags. "Other than that, you have your family and a lot of corn."

He played in college at the University of Nebraska, where the mascot is the Cornhusker. He was too busy punting footballs to really be aware of the sport, until it was introduced to the team in 2010 by Cory Redding, former Ravens defensive lineman.

"This was just one of those things where we just picked it up," Koch says. "We had time, so why not get good at it while you can?"

While many a college tailgate party features this game outdoors, the Ravens have the luxury of spreading two ramped pieces of plywood about 30 feet apart in the comfortably crammed locker room space that houses nearly 60 players.

"The optimal throw is like a Frisbee throw, as opposed to a knuckle or a flop shot," Koch explains, adding that pivoting the throwing arm at the shoulder like a pendulum has proved to be most successful. "Short back swing and a good follow- through. But there are two sides to the bag, a canvas side and a micro-suede side. One side slides, one side sticks."

That's merely the composition. Then there's the combat.

"Depending on the type of player, they may (try) to block the hole first and then try to dunk," he says. "There are many types of strategies to this."

Koch is even mindful of the thickness of the boards, gauging them to slide and bounce the bags effectively. It's quite simple to see his recipe for success: attention to detail. Having a lot of free time instead of being wholly consumed by studying game tape doesn't hurt, either. He asserts that these reasons are why special teams players have consistently ranked near the top.

This has morphed into more than a team game for recreational purposes only. It has grown to such size and grandeur that it now has its own Twitter feed (@RavensCornhole), complete with tournament brackets and BCS-type rankings.

One could assume that if Joe Flacco has one of the strongest arms in the NFL, he should be able to dominate throwing a bean bag underhand over a distance of about 30 feet. This is right, to an extent. But given Koch's propensity to more practice time and the parallels of the intricacies of perfect punting and a terrific toss, it is he who hails as victor - for now.

Koch, the All-Pro punter, tops the list and has for quite some time. Koch has risen to such prominence since the game's Ravens debut that he became a member of the American Cornhole Organization last year.

And he isn't even playing in the current tournament set. Two rounds of 16 are played, featuring the top 16 and next-best 16. Since he was the victor in the singles and doubles tournaments, with long snapper Morgan Cox, he now waits for everyone else to duke it out, then plays that winner and hopes to dominate again.

"I still expect to continue to play as the number-one seed," he says.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)