Johnny Hekker’s football dream was to play quarterback.
“I grew up throwing the ball with my brother in the street, wanting to be Peyton Manning. I even wore No. 18 (at Bothell High near Seattle),’’ the Rams punter recalled. “I had some offers to play quarterback at smaller schools, but I’d always wanted to play in the Pac-10 (now the Pac-12). I remember driving past (the University of Washington’s) Husky Stadium and telling my dad that I was going to play there one day. I thought I’d end up at Washington, but ended up with an opportunity to walk on at Oregon State.’’

Arriving in Corvallis, Ore., however, Hekker encountered quite a crowd at his preferred position.

“They already had six quarterbacks on the roster, so I figured I’d better find another spot,’’ he said. “I’d really dedicated myself to working on my punting during that summer, and that’s where I ended up.

“I can’t complain. Things don’t always work out the way you expect, but I guess you end up where you’re supposed to be.’’

In his second season after signing with the Rams as an undrafted free agent after the 2012 NFL Draft, Hekker is one of the top young punters in the league. He enters this weekend’s showdown with the Chicago Bears at the Edward Jones Dome as the NFL leader in net punting average (43.5).

“Any time you’re at the top of a list, you’re going to be reminded of it,” Hekker said. “But for me to stand here and take credit would be selfish on my part. The success we’ve had to this point, I’ll hang on my teammates, the 10 guys who are getting off blocks, getting to balls in space and making the tackles quickly. And they’re protecting their butts off.

“One thing I’ve learned, you can’t bank on the past to predict the future. We have six games to play, so it’s important to just keep grinding and working to get better.’’

On 53 punts this season, Hekker is averaging 45.6 per kick. Opponents have returned 23 kicks for 73 yards, an average of 3.2 a return.

As a rookie last year, Hekker punted 82 times, averaging 45.8 per kick with a net average of 39.9. But his punting this season has been much more consistent.