NACOGDOCHES, Texas (Press Release) – It comes as no surprise that a major point of emphasis this offseason for Stephen F. Austin has been on special teams. It was an area of inconsistency in 2015, magnified by the loss of seniors Nick Bruno and Mason Juhl in the offseason.
Head coach Clint Conque has dedicated key time during each practice to special teams, both during fall camp and in spring practices, and is optimistic to see some progress at the position. At the kicker position, Conque brought in transfers Troy Duran and Storm Ruiz and the two have provided a level of consistency through the first week of fall camp, including going seven-of-eight in field goal attempts during Saturday's first scrimmage.
Punting has also been a major focus after a number of games which saw long punt returns prove to be a key component to the outcome. With the loss of four year starter Bruno, two punters have stepped in to fill the hole, including sophomore Caleb Lewallen and transferMichael Crowder. Both have shown their ability to get some distance on the ball as the duo averaged just shy of 45 yards per punt in Saturday's scrimmage.
Along with Lewallen, the lone returner on special teams is sophomore long snapper Chris Wilkerson, who saw his first collegiate action in 2015. He will be SFA's primary snapper in 2016, working with sophomore Ryan Cottingame, who will take over the reigns as the Lumberjacks' primary holder.
Normally the first players on the field during practice sessions, the specialists occupy the minutes prior to the practice running through field goals and punts from various lengths and hashes, normally under the watchful eye of coach Conque.
Following stretch lines, the focus of practices once again settles in on special teams as punt and field goal teams get a number of reps. While it serves as an opportunity for the younger players on the cover team to get in significant practice, the number of reps for both the kickers and punters are also an added benefit, giving the newcomers more chances to impress the coaching staff.
Once the meat of practice begins, it becomes somewhat of an isolated time for the specialists, who retreat to whichever field is unoccupied to continue to work on their craft. Away from the eyes of the rest of the team, the unseen workouts help build a level of trust. While their on-field snaps are fewer than most, they come in crucial moments of a game, making these unseen workouts even more important.
As the halfway point of 2016 fall camp nears, SFA will take to the field for its second two-a-day practice Wednesday, beginning with a full pad workout at 9:15 a.m. The second practice of the day will get underway at 3:45 p.m., consisting of shells as the countdown to kickoff for 2016 is down to just 18 days.
2016 STEPHEN F. AUSTIN FALL CAMP SCHEDULE