The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

September 5, 2013

HERTZEL COLUMN: DeForest has impact on WVU special teams

MORGANTOWN — A year ago, Joe DeForest was defenseless, which is an often fatal malady when your job title is defensive coordinator.

He had taken over the West Virginia University job after Jeff Casteel left to rejoin Rich Rodriguez in Arizona and took a couple of long-standing Mountaineer assistants with him, including the cigar-chomping defensive line coach of 30 years, Bill Kirelawich.

To say it didn’t work out for DeForest is an understatement of mammoth proportions, the WVU defense becoming the worst in West Virginia history, which was probably a statement in part about DeForest’s coaching as a first-year defensive coordinator but equally as much about the offenses he was facing in the Big 12.

It didn’t take Dana Holgorsen, the head coach, long to realize that a change was in order, and so it was that DeForest was replaced, but not dismissed. Instead, Holgorsen, who long had been preaching DeForest’s ability to coach special teams, turned him into one of the few full-time special-teams coordinators in college football, and if the first week of the season was an indicator, it was a move destined to work.

Special teams play was markedly improved over a season ago, complete with a punter in Nick O’Toole who appears capable of turning fourth down into a moment of opportunity after having watched it become something of a comedy over the past couple of years.

The presence of O’Toole, a junior college player who came in with three years eligibility left, offered some insight into why DeForest has had success with special teams.

“I’ve signed probably 12 guys in my career out of Chris Sayler’s Kicking Academy in California and Vegas,” he explained, referring to the academy where O’Toole learned to punt. “I called him after the year was over and he gave me like three or four names, and I did my research.”

The research pointed toward O’Toole, in part because he had those three years left, but also because of his physical assets.

“I love his length. I love tall punters … and I love the ability he has,” DeForest said.

And so he brought him in, and he averaged 50.6 yards a punt in last Saturday’s 24-17 win over William & Mary, didn’t have to revert to a roll, rugby style punt, and brought something to the team off the field.

“He walks into the room and everything lights up. Everyone likes the guy. He’s not what you call a ‘flaky’ specialist. He’s not. He’s a normal guy who has fun and is level-headed,” DeForest said.

That is certainly different, for specialists such as the former kicker Pat McAfee, now with the Indianapolis Colts, are normally known for their abnormalities.

But special teams are more than just punting. They are kickoffs and kickoff returns and punt returns and field goals, and there is much promise there, although DeForest’s special teams have been hit especially hard by injuries.

First, Nana Kyeremeh went down with a season-ending shoulder injury, then Shaq Petteway was lost to knee surgery and this last game Dozie Ezemma saw his WVU football career end with a broken leg and foot.

Each played a huge role on special teams, Kyeremeh and Ezemma playing on three of them and Petteway on all four. It will take two guys to fill in Kyeremer’s spots, two to fill Ezema’s and maybe four to fill Petteway’s.

“You don’t cover it up. You move on, but unfortunately the next guy is a young guy and he has to learn on the run. Hopefully the live bullets he gets out there will make him better,” DeForest said.

This becomes crucial this week because Oklahoma’s punt returner, Jalen Saunders is one of the nation’s best, a threat to break one at any more.

“He’s a different kind of animal,” DeForest said. “He’s a cheetah.”

And cheetahs run pretty fast when they get loose, but DeForest’s job is to see that doesn’t happen.

 He has the proper background to call upon to devise some kind of coverage that works, having started working with special teams back in the mid-1990s when he went from Rice to Duke as a young assistant.

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

1
Text Only
WVU Sports
  • ‘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 23, 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.

    July 23, 2014

  • WVU, Tennessee finalize 2018 meeting

    West Virginia University and Tennessee have finalized their season-opening, Sept. 1, 2018, meeting in Charlotte, N.C., at Bank of America Stadium.
    Both teams will receive $2.5 million for the game and have a chance to earn up to $3.2 million with ticket incentives.
    Each team will buy 12,500 tickets and set aside 2,000 of its allotment for students.
    The game, played on the home field of the Carolina Panthers of the NFL, is being put on by the Charlotte Sports Federation.

    July 23, 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

  • Fleming, Billy.jpg WVU’s Fleming signs contract with Yankees

     Second baseman Billy Fleming of the West Virginia University baseball team has signed a professional contract with the New York Yankees, foregoing his upcoming senior season.
    “Ever since I was a little kid, it’s been my dream to play professional baseball,” Fleming said. “It is still surreal that I get to chase my dream, but I am ready to get after it. I loved my three years at WVU and want to thank all the coaches that made it possible for me to achieve my dream.”

    July 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • 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

  • Growing demands on college athletes concerns Wyant

    Fred Wyant, one of the greatest quarterbacks in West Virginia University’s history, has lashed out at today’s growing demands on college athletes.
    The 80-year-old Star City resident led the Mountaineers to a 30-4 record as the starter from 1952-1955. Percentage-wise, it’s clearly the best-ever record by a QB in school annals.
    Wyant, a member of the WVU Sports Hall of Fame, came here after graduating with honors from Weston High School. That’s where WVU coach Art “Pappy” Lewis signed him to a four-year scholarship.

    July 23, 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 22, 2014

  • Growing demands on college athletes concerns Wyant

    Fred Wyant, one of the greatest quarterbacks in West Virginia University’s history, has lashed out at today’s growing demands on college athletes.

    July 22, 2014

  • WVU’s Fleming signs with Yankees

    Second baseman Billy Fleming of the West Virginia University baseball team has signed a professional contract with the New York Yankees, foregoing his upcoming senior season.

    July 22, 2014

Featured Ads
WVU Sports Highlights
NDN Sports
House Ads
NCAA Breaking News
NCAA Photos