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Question
On a punt from scrimmage on 4th down, a defende goes downfield and goes put of bounds voluntarily and then
returns to the field of play. The punt returner muffs then punt and then it is recovered by the defender who stepped out of bounds. I contend that it is not illegal touching as the defender was not a receiver. I have a friend insists it is.
Please advise

Answer
Mike,
Thank your for your question. It deals with both illegal touching and Kicking Team Player Out of Bounds.  I apologize for the delay in my reply; i am an on filed official and was delayed getting home due to airline delays.  It is not a foul for "illegal touching" - illegal touching is a violation and not a could so there is no penalty attached.   However, your question deals with NCAA Football Rule 6-3-12 Out of Bounds Player on scrimmage kick. When a member of the punting team "goes out of bounds voluntarily and then returns to the field of play" that is a foul for Team A player going out of bounds [not blocked out of bounds and returning inbounds and is penalized 5 yards from the previous spot or 5 yards from the subsequent dead ball spot [the Return Teams' choice].

For illegal touching under Rule 6-3-2 the kicking team is prohibited from being the first to touch the scrimmage kick that has crossed the the neutral zone.  In your play the receiver muffs the kick thus the Receiving teams is the first to touch the ball so there can not be illegal touching by the kicking team member.  In fact if the Kicking team members is the first payer to gain possession of th kick after it was touched or muffed by the receiving team. So the Receiving team will want to take the penalty and replay the down with the five hard penalty.

So it is not illegal touching  your play is a foul for Kicking Team Player Out of Bounds.

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