The Times West Virginian

Bob Herzel

August 21, 2013

Can WVU regain ‘special’ touch?

MORGANTOWN — West Virginia University’s special teams have always been … eh, well … special.

In fact, historically speaking you could make a point they are among the best in college football.

Think about it.

Todd Sauerbrun was probably the best collegiate punter ever, owning a 90-yard punt (you read that right) against Nebraska in 1994, a season in which he averaged a record 48.6 yards per punt.

Placekicking wasn’t far behind that with the likes Paul Woodside, who holds the school record with a 55-yard field goal in 1984 (if you really want to be impressed, however, in 1901 a dude named Ed Kenna dropkicked a 50-yard field goal).

You want perfection, in 1970 Bill Samuelson made all 19 of his attempts and, of course, there was always Mike Vanderjagt, who went on to become the longtime placekicker for the Indianapolis Colts, who liked the West Virginia influence so much that they brought in Pat McAfee to punt.

McAfee was the best combination kicker in WVU history, ranking second all-time in punting average to Sauerbrun with 43.7 per game and first all-time in kick scoring with 384 points.

WVU not only kicked the ball well historically, but the Mountaineers made a mark when the other team was kicking, as early as 1934 when Joe Stydahar blocked seven punts, only part of the reason he went on to become the first player ever drafted by the Chicago Bears.

However, it was when kicks were returned when WVU was at its best, and perhaps never more exciting good than when Tavon Austin had the return. He ran four kickoffs back for TDs, two of them of 100 yards, and added a punt return for a TD.

Austin averaged 12.7 yards per punt return and 24.8 on kickoff returns, but it wasn’t even close to the best in WVU history.

Austin, in fact, ranks seventh in all-time kickoff return average at 24.8 behind Shawn Terry’s record 27.7, Darius Reynaud, Robert Gresham, Nate Terry, Kerry Marbury and Adam (Pacman) Jones.

The Terry brothers each returned kickoffs for touchdowns with Shawn setting a record by returning three in the 2000 season.

And as for Austin’s punt return average of 12.7, a certainly impressive average, but the school mark stands at 14.9 by John Mallory, who ran seven back for touchdowns.

All of this brings us to this season, now just 10 days away, after a year when the Mountaineers’ special teams were not nearly what they had been, save for Austin’s return game, which now belongs to the St. Louis Rams.

Coach Dana Holgorsen does not yet have it all worked out, but it appears redshirt freshman Josh Lambert will placekick. Junior college transfer Nick O’Toole and returning punter Mike Molinari will do the punting, with a battle still raging for the kickoff job.

“I’m going to brag on those guys a little bit,’’ Holgorsen said during one of his late camp interviews. “Josh Lambert is doing well. ... Our punters are booming the ball. Nick O’Toole has a strong leg. Michael Molinari has done a great job punting and has also been doing a lot of kickoff stuff. And Huey (walk-on freshman punter Houston Syvertson) is doing great as well. He might have the strongest leg of all three.’’

That’s a long way from sounding like he’s worried about his kicking game, and he also believes that the team has moved forward in snapping the ball on punts, field goals and extra points.

“John DePalma is light years ahead of where he was last year. That’s a very under-appreciated position until they’re not very good, but he looks very good,’’ Holgorsen said.

The kickoff game, however, seems troublesome.

“We just don’t have a guy that can put it in the end zone,’’ special teams coach Joe DeForest said.

“So you have to be creative.’’

As for kickoff and punt returns, Holgorsen has a locker room full of skilled players from his wide receivers, running backs and cornerbacks.

It certainly would not be surprising to see Houston transfer Charles Sims, a combo running/receiver, become a triple threat as many have been comparing his style to Austin’s, but Holgorsen will more likely look among receivers Ronald Carswell, Mario Alford, Jordan Thompson and Vernon Davis, along with freshman running back Wendell Smallwood and freshman cornerback Daryl Worley.

“We have guys that will be able to do it and look comfortable back there,’’ Holgorsen said. “It’s still up for grabs, though. We should have enough bodies to have different punt returners than we do kick returners, which is a skill I would like to develop.’’

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.

1
Text Only
Bob Herzel
  • HERTZEL COLUMN: Big 12 provides plenty of optimism

    This past week the Big 12 held its annual media gathering in Dallas and served up a heaping portion of optimism for the 2014 season that is now upon us, West Virginia University opening its preseason practices on Thursday.
    This is a time of year when no one has lost a game, not even Charlie Weis at Kansas, and it’s a time of year when opinions are more plentiful than tattoos in an NFL locker room.

    July 27, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN: WVU needs White to follow in former receivers’ footsteps

    A year ago Clint Trickett took a lot of grief as the once potent West Virginia offense came unraveled, but there is more that than meets the eye.
    The criticism was not unfounded, of course, although behind each incomplete pass there was the pain Trickett was suffering through to throw it, his rotator cuff in need of surgery.

    July 26, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN: O’Toole joins long list of eccentric WVU kickers, punters

    The star of the Big 12’s annual football media day wasn’t a star at all.
    He intrigued the media far more than Bob Stoops, the coach of preseason favorite Oklahoma, and more than Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty, the preseason player of the year.

    July 25, 2014

  • WVU, N.C. State to meet in football

    Following a trend of creating non-conference games against regional opponents, West Virginia University has reached agreement with North Carolina State to play a home-and-home football series in 2018 and 2019.
    The Mountaineers are scheduled to play N.C. State in Raleigh on Sept. 15, 2018, and then play host to the Wolfpack on Sept. 14, 2019.

    July 24, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN: ‘Cheating pays’ remark should draw attention

    When Bob Bowlsby, the outspoken commissioner of the Big 12, presented his opening-day picture of the future of college sports in Dallas for the annual media day gathering, his bleak comments were not unexpected.

    July 24, 2014

  • Holgorsen’s program hits turning point

    You can almost sense, as you watch West Virginia University football coach Dana Holgorsen sit before the gathered Big 12 media contingent answering questions in the Omni Hotel in Arlington, Texas, that he senses his program has reached a turning point.

    July 23, 2014

  • Big 12 Media Days Foo_time(1).jpg Trickett’s play key factor for Mountaineers’ success

     In the end, it comes down to the quarterback.
    Always has with Dana Holgorsen, always will.
    Quarterback is the offense with the West Virginia University coach. When he does well, the team wins – almost always.
    When he does poorly, the team doesn’t stand much of a chance.

    July 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Saban, family happy at Alabama

    Alabama football coach Nick Saban, whose team opens the season against West Virginia in Atlanta on Aug. 30, denied receiving or turning down this offseason an offer of $100 million to coach Texas, indicating he planned to finish his career as coach of the Crimson Tide.

    July 18, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN: ‘Quarterback child prodigy’ comes to WVU amidst very high expectations

    Has West Virginia football coach Dana Holgorsen finally put the arrow he needs in his quiver with the commitment received Wednesday from high school quarterback David Sills, who is a rather extraordinary story and may also just be a rather extraordinary quarterback?

    July 18, 2014

  • WVU kicker Molinari ‘All-American boy’

    West Virginia kicker Mike Molinari may not be an All-American but he is an All-American boy.
    He was honored for that on Wednesday when the Allstate Insurance Company and the American Football Coaches Association announced the West Virginia redshirt senior kicker/punter Michael Molinari is a nominee for the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team.

    July 16, 2014

House Ads
Featured Ads