PRESEASON PRACTICE UPDATE: Special Teams Preview
Aug. 21, 2012
SPECIAL TEAMS PREVIEW:
Everyone familiar with the ODU Football program knows Bobby Wilder's rule - in order to start on the offense or defense, you have to start as an All-Star, also known as special teams. And no one on the ODU roster is immune to that rule. Even the captains Craig Wilkins, Chris Burnette, and Taylor Heinicke are expected to contribute on special teams.
"All our skill, big skill, they are all involved," said All-American punter Jonathan Plisco of special teams. "There's a lot freshman that are trying to playing time and Coach Wilder pins this as a way of getting playing time. Getting on the travel team is contributing on special teams. We have a lot of freshman that have stepped up in camp and it's going to be awesome to see what they can do."
"Things are going as expected," said Special Teams Coordinator Michael Zyskowski of preseason. "It's nice when have three returners."
One of the most familiar names to fans is Plisco, who not only earned ODU's first ever All-American, but has gone on to earn the honor nine times over the last three seasons.
"We're very excited about how he continues here," said Zyskowski of the left footed Monarch punter. "The crazy thing is that he has gotten better year-in and year-out with all the off-season workouts."
"He really doesn't ever fail to keep doing better," said kicker Jarod Brown of his teammate. "He leads the nation pretty much every year and he's one of the best punters I've ever seen."
Leading the nation punting in 2009, Plisco has ranked second among all FCS punters the last two seasons including last season's average of 46.2 yards per game and he know just how crucial he can be in helping the Monarchs with field position.
"Example is Campbell last year," commented Plisco. "It was a close game and we had a 76-yard punt that was downed on the one. Then they punted deep out of their side of the field, and we returned it, scored a touchdown, and opened that game up."
So how does one of the nation's best punters attempt to improve?
"I just want to be consistent," said Plisco. "Numbers aren't that important. If I need 50-yard punt, that's what is going to happen. If I a need a 30-yard punt, that's going to happen. I want to consistently hit those targets."
Another key component to special teams that returns is kicker Jarod Brown, a Third Team All-CAA selection and responsible to scoring 101 of ODU's 477 points last year.
Brown connected on 14 of his 21 field goals attempts, which included a career-high 51-yard field goal at Georgia State and only missed two PAT's going 57-of-49, coming in third in the league at 96.6%.
"I want to make sure I do my job. I need to be more consistent this year," said Brown of the upcoming season and reflecting back on those missed attempts. "I know my holder and my snapper are going to get their job done, the blockers are all going to get their jobs done, so I need to make sure I do what I need to do to help my team out and win games."
Rick Lovato also returns as the Monarchs' long snapper.
"He's come in leaner, as far as body fat, more athletic, and he's really worked on his flexibility and athleticism in the off-season, which too I think has helped him snap the ball with more velocity," noted Zyskowski.
"Sometimes I like to tell the snappers, people won't know their names until they see them mess up, so continue to a do a great job having perfect snaps each and every time."
"He came in last year as a true freshman and did phenomenal," mentioned Plisco. "He's gotten a lot better in the off-season and it's going to be real exciting to watch him work this fall."
Backing up those positions include kickers/punters in redshirt freshmen Dustin Burdick and Kyle Lawrence along with newcomers Joseph Pulisic and Ricky Segers and long snapper newcomer Shane Palmateer.
"All those kids have done a good job coming in and competing," said Zyskowski. "Right now there's no clear cut number two kicker/punter. We expect big things. Those young kids know there are big shoes to fill and compete with, but they are up for the challenge every day."
Brown and Plisco also praised one of the unsung members of special teams, Nate Ong at holder.
"He is my holder and seriously he doesn't mess up," said Brown. "Every hold is one point. He has the spots right, the tilt on the ball is right and everything like that has to be perfect for the kickers because the way we kick the ball is we're expecting it to be a certain way. He's one of the most underrated positions, but he does a great job and always gets it right."
As for the return units, preseason has been spent not only working on ball security and fielding the football, but also finding out exactly which players will fill the returner roles.
"Right now we're finding that we've got some very good skill players that can go back there and catch the ball " mentioned Wilder rattling off the names of Nick Mayers, Marquel Thomas, Aaron Evans, Antonio Vaughan, and Larry Pinkard all as possibilities. "There are a number of other guys we're looking at. We feel like we've got some explosive returners that can do a good job back there."
While there are also a host of other Monarchs that contribute to special teams, Brown and Plisco each pointed to Craig Wilkins as a standout.
"Craig Wilkins he's on every team. He blocks, he tackles, he runs down the field," said Plisco.
"I don't think there's one he's not on," joked Brown. "He blocks for me on field goals, he blocks for Plisco on punts, he runs down the field on kickoffs, he recovers on-side kicks, he just does everything. Craig is always there."
As Plisco and Brown mentioned, Wilkins is one of key members on the block units, a squad that over the last three years has racked up 23 blocked kicks, including a nation-leading 11 blocks last season.
Wilkins had a key block against James Madison last season, which preserved a 23-20 win over the Dukes, ODU's first top-10 win. Erik Saylor blocked Georgia Southern's Adrian Mora's extra point attempt in the second round of the FCS playoffs, which snapped Mora's streak and FCS record of 151 consecutive made PAT's . Chris Burnette has totaled five career blocks, including three last year coming against Norfolk State in the first round of the playoffs, William & Mary, and Delaware. Jakwail Bailey earned CAA Special Teams player of the Week after his second blocked punt of the season resulted in a safety in ODU's win over UMass, the Monarchs' first CAA win and victory over a ranked foe. Also getting in the blocking action was James Faircloth with a blocked punt against Hampton and Alex Arain and Paul Morant with blocked punts at Georgia State.
Also adding to the Monarchs arsenal on special teams is a variety of specialty plays.
"Coach Z is probably one of the most meticulous coaches on this staff," said Plisco of what goes into the success of the squad. "He plans everything single thing out - every punt, field goal, everything that can happen. He'll plan it out and have a situation drawn out of how we're going to handle it. He really emphasizes that we're one third of the equation."
"He works so hard at making sure everything is on point - whether it's a block for a punt or a block field goal, or making sure that we're going to run a fake the right way, or if we are going to run a surprise on-side kick - he makes sure that every single person knows exactly where they need to be before we even start practicing," also said Brown. "He's really enthusiastic about what we do and he's enthusiastic about what he does and obviously it works really well because we led the nation in blocks last year and he's the one who makes all those happen."
"When you look at the fact you've got a couple of All-Americans, you can't sell yourself short," said Zyskowski. "Those are our goals. Those are expectations."