August 23, 2009

"Countdown To Kickoff": The Special Teams

Editor's Note: This is the eighth and final installment of an eight-part series produced by the FSU Athletics Communications Office looking at different position groups as the Bulldogs prepare for their 2009 season opener on Saturday, Aug. 29, against Tiffin at Top Taggart Field.

Big Rapids, Mich. - The special teams units will likely have a much different look for the Ferris State University football team in 2009 than they have the past few seasons.

The departure of former All-GLIAC honoree Jim Yates means the Bulldogs will feature new faces in the kicking game for the first time in almost three seasons.  Yates handled virtually all of the Bulldogs' punting and placekicking duties the last two years.

The lone player with any game experience on the roster in terms of kickers is sophomore Shawn Snoor (Dimondale/Holt), who converted two-of-two extra point attempts late last fall and kicked off seven times for a 57.0 average.

The Bulldogs also placed an emphasis on the kicking game during the recruiting period and remain hopeful this area won't be cause for concern in 2009.

True freshman Mitchell Voss (Valparaiso, Ind./Wheeler) appears to be Snoor's top challenger and could handle some of the punting and kicking duties with a solid camp. The 6-1 Voss comes in as a highly-regarded kicker who made 60-of-62 PAT's and averaged 40.3 yards per punt his final prep season. Voss set school records with 41 touchbacks on kickoffs in addition to setting school all-time bests with a 49-yard made field goal and 64-yard punt.

Another true freshman, Fletcher Spears (Clio), might also contend for time. A three-sport prep athlete, Spears received All-Metro First Team recognition after averaging 39.8 yards per punt and setting a league record with nine made field goals last fall at Clio High School.

"We were able to add some guys during the recruiting season who have the ability to compete with a couple of returning players already on-campus for our kicking and punting duties," said FSU head coach Jeff Pierce. "It's an area where we needed to create some competition and I think these guys all have the ability to compete for those jobs."

Along with Snoor and the two freshmen, the Bulldogs also have two other kickers on the roster in redshirt freshmen Caitlin Porter (Midland) and Cody Hillman (Holland), who both battled Snoor throughout the spring. 

It's likely many of the punting and kicking duties will be split this season.  Additionally, the Bulldogs have used their quarterbacks as punters in certain situations over the last few seasons and it could happen again this year with the return of sophomore QB Tom Schneider (Jerome/Addison) and senior Kyle Parrish (Garden Grove, Calif./Santiago), who combined for nine punts and placed seven inside the 20-yard line last fall.

"We have some roles to fill in the kicking game, but I like the fact there is some competition for those jobs and that should help us as we try to improve and excell in all phases of the special teams area," Pierce added.

Junior Brian Bush (Coopersville) is a quality long-snapper who has played in 21 games over the last couple of seasons and should handle those chores again this fall.  The Bulldogs might also utilize senior defensive end Joe Morrow (Kingsley) in a long-snapping role if needed and sophomore transfer Tyler Uekman (Alpena) joined the team this summer and could eventually see time as well in this area.

In terms of the return game, the Bulldogs have a number of speedy freshmen who could help make this an improved unit over a year ago despite the loss of talented return man Tim Hogue.  Freshmen receivers Alan Freeman (Westland/Inkster), Stephen Gardner (Massillon, Ohio/Jackson) and Troy McClary (Port Charlotte, Fla./Charlotte) will serve in various return roles as needed, joining a returnee in sophomore receiver Mike Ryan (Howell).  The 5-10 Ryan returned six kicks for an 18-yard average a year ago and also returned four punts for 13 yards.

Sophomore receiver Damien Miller (Elsie/Ovid-Elsie) is the likely holder and could also serve in the return game after being the team's top punt returner and ranking second in kickoff returns during the 2008 season.  Miller had nine kickoff returns (16.2 avg.) and a team-high seven punt returns (9.4 avg.) in his initial season.  Ryan is another player who could contribute as a holder while cornerbacks Russell Weatherspoon (Detroit/Pershing) and Angelo Williams (Jackson) are among others who have played a role as returners in the past.

Last fall, the Bulldogs blocked six kicks and came up with several big special teams plays, especially early in the year including a dramatic blocked field goal as time expired to preserve a victory at nationally-ranked Ashland.  The two players who combined for those six blocks, Jake Visser (four) and Kevin Noe (two), have both departed meaning someone else will need to emerge.  Additionally, many of the players the Bulldogs have used in coverage roles the last couple of campaigns have moved into or are challenging for starting roles, so it's likely there will be new faces on many of the special teams units.

Season Opener:  The Bulldogs open the 2009 campaign by hosting the Tiffin (Ohio) Dragons in non-league action as part of "Community Football Day" Saturday, Aug. 29, with kickoff set for 7 p.m. (EDT) at Top Taggart Field.

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