What do Beamer Ball, Pride and Joy, the #25 all have in common?
If there is anything, other than the Hokie Bird, #DBU, and the reputation of Lane Stadium that is cemented into the memories of those who know anything about the Virginia Tech Fighting Gobblers is that Special Teams play means something to those who play football in the New River Valley.
If Frank Beamer taught us anything, over his tenure, about football; he taught us that Special Teams play often does mean the difference between winning and losing. It's that break away kickoff return that can turn the tide of a game (NC State calling they want their win back.). A punt block is not only dispiriting but offers either an instant score, or an impossible to defend short field. It can also completely negate the other team's chances at Special Teams magic; Joey Slye still really really hates footballs.
Last season, Justin Fuente could have spent time and energy expunging the touch of Frank Beamer from the program. We’ve seen it before; the new regime just tosses everything about the old one out the door and starts a "new thing". Coach Fuente seems to bring a good deal of humility and logic to the table, instead. Fuente managed to hang on to Bud Foster and Charlie Wiles. He found a place for the excellent Zohn Burden in his organization, and then he found a proper place for Mr. Hokie Nation himself, Frank Beamer. He found both Beamer's Special Teams ethos and his number from the jersey bin. I don't know who came up with the idea of the "Pride and Joy" Team's top performer for the week being issued Frank's old number, but whoever it was, please take a bow because the magic that surrounded that honor had a presence in every Hokie victory of 2017.
As with many Special Teams units, Virginia Tech salts the squads with new players, getting them field time, and critical experience. What sets the Hokies apart is that the core of the Special Teams squads is the experienced starting players. We saw Tim Settle wearing 25. We watched Sam Rogers covering punts and kickoffs. We cheered loudly and proudly when Greg Stroman (wearing the magical 25) ran back a punt for a touchdown.
Those are the cover and return folks. There are some more important people who play at the base function of each squad, who need to be mentioned, and they are the entire remainder of the roster grid. There are three critical positions unique to Special Teams; Punter, Kicker, and Long Snapper.
2017 Hokie Special Teams Roster.csv
So let’s go through the special positions of the Pride and Joy Team before we wrap the reviews for the season. We start with the first most logical place, the MOST important player on Special Teams – who nobody ever thinks is very important; Long Snapper. Look, if the ball doesn’t get to the holder or punter, and if it doesn’t get there in the proper time, angle, and velocity there are serious consequences to be suffered. How many punt blocks, safeties, missed Field Goals, and muffed PATs are directly related to how the ball is snapped? I bet if there was some stats geek out there with the time and patience it would be a significant part of the entire process. As someone who had to learn to long snap, and ended up a Nose Guard for the effort, it’s a difficult task. You have to literally pass the ball, hard for about 10 yards, accurately (within a target about as big as the strike zone in baseball, between your legs, aiming upside down. You have to do this regardless of the conditions, rain, floods, and locusts, jeering fans from the opposition… you name it. You must do it on command, and then you have to block, cover, and tackle. I wonder if there are any long snappers in the various Halls of Fame. Well?
Tech currently lists only two Long Snappers on the roster for the season. Colton Taylor has been performing his unsung best for two seasons. The redshirt Senior is going to step on to Worsham Field for the last time at the end of this season. What’s unfair is that his stats don’t even exist. The most that can be said is that he played in 13 games last season and 5 in 2015. That’s really unfair since long snappers actually do something significant. Someone needs to fix that. Taylor will be backed up by redshirt-Freshman Hundley McCurry. He was a ranked long snapper in high school but he has no college playing experience. Therefore, Colton Taylor is guaranteed to be out with something at a critical time. There was a touch of controversy over Coach Fuente offering a scholarship to a high school long snapper. Our “depth” at the position after this season might be a good reason for the move.
On the receiving end of the long snapping, the Hokies took another hit. We lost our punter. With one year of eligibility left, and a very impressive 2016 season, Mitchell Ludwig (who was an academic Senior/redshirt Junior) decided to forego his final year to move on to other pursuits after graduation. Well, that was a tad bit inconvenient because we had no more “P”s on the roster. I want to hear the story of how it happened, but Justin Fuente is sure working the out of state recruiting game. He’s gone to the other side of the planet to find a punter. He was a Sydney Swan in training before something (really need to get that story) got him to take up an interest in American rules football. Having spent the better part of four seasons watching the AFL on the satellite (Western Bulldogs fan, myself). There are some differences between the games, well like nearly everything. A ‘footie’ (what the Aussies call their football) is pretty much a rugby ball, which is what the ORIGINAL football was before the ‘Duke’ was instituted. It’s easier to kick (though it’s HEAVY as cast iron – well it seemed like it); it bounces off the turf better (which is necessary in Australian Football because you have to bounce the ball off the ground). Okay, no more Footie notes. Suffice it to say young Mr. Bradburn is well acquainted with kicking oblong spheroids.
OK, old football knowledge for plays that are seldom ever used (well almost never- except by Doug Flutie). You can advance the ball to your own team by kicking it. The ball must be grounded first before contact. (This is why the kickoff is a free ball that doesn’t need to be touched by the opposing team before it can be recovered.) So, if someone figures out how to reliably DROP KICK the ball instead of PUNT IT (drop kick bounces the ball off the ground, Punting kicks the ball out of the air after the drop). Needless to say with rugby shaped ball it’s not easy, but it’s much easier than kicking a “Duke” like that. Oh, if folks remember, Flutie drop kicked a Field Goal a while back. You can do that, too.
Oh, sorry dreaming of possibilities for trickeration. I shouldn’t be doing that. Bradburn is going to be Finance major so maybe Jawhar will run into him. It promises to be an interesting season for the punting game, that’s for sure.
And now for the place kickers! There is always something interesting about kickers in football. Some folks just don’t want to admit that they are players. There was a time when there was consideration for kickers to have unpadded uniforms, and be a 12th man on the field for kickoffs and place kicks. There have been other oddities, but one thing is for sure, kickers are critical to the game of football, and a good kicker can win or lose a game – wide right call your office. There are moves afoot (ahem) to make the goals smaller, the pro game has backed the PAT off to be a 35 yard attempt. Touchbacks have been changed from the 20 to the 25 to encourage players not to run back kickoffs. There are even moves being made to remove the place kicking game altogether. (An opinion piece is brewing so more about that later.)
Tech’s primary and only experienced kicker is Joey #JoeyHatesFootballs Slye. I have been innocently standing next to the kicking net on the sideline happily taking pictures, and rudely interrupted by the thumping concussion of Joey uncorking on a football. To say that he has cannon for a leg is not a trite expression, it’s completely true. Slye’s touchback percentage is stratospheric. Opposing coaches are just sort of getting used to the idea of lining up at the 25 to start. He’s gold kicking field goals inside 35 to 40 yards, but he’s struggled outside of that. The misses are always really close, though. It’s got to be frustrating for him, especially when he kicked a booming 60+ yarder in the Spring Game. That’s a very dangerous possibility. If he could hit half of those, the Hokies could eek out 3 points on a drive stalled out at the opponent’s 45 or 50. If Joey Slye can get those shotgun blasts converted to rifle shots, he’s going to make a difference in more than a few games next season.
How Many Games will be determined by Special Teams?
This poll is closed
3 or less
Between 3 and 6
More than 6
Hey who knows? I just want to see Joey hit a 60+ yard field goal!
We have a new kicker in the wings, Brian Johnson redshirted last season, so we’ll hopefully get to see him in some high leverage situations. I’ll be watching for him before games to see how his leg is swinging.
That’s it for the Roster Reviews. We’ve checked in with everyone, noted the changes, and looked at who’s likely to play. We’ve reviewed the Changes and Challenges on the Offense. So, obviously the Defensive Summary will be forthcoming. Football Fans, the Hall of Fame Game is 1 and a half weeks off. The pros are reporting to training camps, and the college squads will be getting suited up within the next two weeks or so. Football is almost here. Game Day is coming!