July 19, 2010

Flashes consistent on special teams




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It's been a long time since Kent State entered a new football season with
little worry about the makeup of its special teams unit.

Special teams has been the Achilles heel of head coach Doug Martin's tenure, at least until last season when freshman Freddy Cortez emerged
as a consistent weapon on field goals and he was nearly perfect on point after
attempts, and sophomore punter Matt Rinehart earned first team all-conference
honors.


Entering fall camp the Flashes have their specialists in place, and that includes
the holders and snappers too. The Flashes have several options on kickoff and
punt returns, which sets the Flashes up in a position where special teams could
lead to a few wins.




HEAD OF THE CLASS

In 2008 Rinehart arrived at Kent State and immediately won a starting job
as the Golden Flashes' punter. That season he punted 49 times for 1,799
yards. His 40.0-yard per punt average was good for seventh in the Mid-American
Conference. Eighteen of his boots landed inside the opponent's 20-yard
line. He had six punts travel 50 yards or more.






Matt
Rinehart became Kent State's first all-conference punter in 58 years.


He was even better as a sophomore.


Avoiding a sophomore slump, Rinehart became just the second Kent State punter
in 58 years to earn first team all-MAC honors. He was also a first-team Academic
All-MAC honoree.


He punted 74 times with an average of 40.9 yards per boot. His punting average
was tops in the MAC and fourth best in school history. His career-long 80-yarder
against Western Michigan was second-best in the nation in 2009 and second-best
in school history.


Rinehart landed 17 punts inside the opponent's 20-yard line and had
16 punts travel over 50 yards.


Cortez left Fort Meade, Fla., last August intent on winning the starting job
as Kent State's kicker. It didn't take long for him to achieve
that goal.


A hamstring opportunity to then starter Nate Reed opened the door
for Cortez to earn double the reps in camp and he never looked back.


His first career field goal attempt was blocked by Coastal Carolina, but Cortez
rebounded and finished his freshman season 13-of-19 on field goal attempts
and 24-of-26 on extra point tries. He was even better in the MAC where he finished
13-of-15 on field goals.


With 13 field goals in 2009 Cortez tied for fifth-most in school history.
He enters the 2010 season with a streak of hitting on 16 consecutive point
after tries.


After hitting all three of his field goal attempts against Miami on Sept.
26, including the game winner with 1:19 left to play, Cortez became the first
Kent State kicker to earn the MAC Special Teams Player of the Week award since
2005.


Equally as important as Cortez's ability to convert field goals and
PATs was his ability to place his kickoffs. That allowed the Flashes to lead
the nation in kick return defense at 15.33 yards per attempt.




SUPPORTING CAST

Any good kicker or punter will credit his support system for his success.


For a kicker to be successful he needs both a good snap and hold and a punter
can't get off a booming kick without a good snap. Fortunately, the Golden
Flashes return each of their holders and snappers.


On field goals and extra points junior Alex Thomasson handles the
snapping while Leneric Muldrow and Spencer Keith are listed
as the holders.


Thomasson has been in his position for 24 straight games and provides the
consistency every special teams unit covets.


Muldrow, a fifth-year senior and Kent State's starter at H-Back, is
a dangerous weapon as a holder. A high school quarterback, Muldrow has scored
twice on fake field goal attempts.


Junior Ryan Hidalgo handles the snaps on all punts, as he has done
for the past two seasons. Last year he recorded four special teams tackles
and recovered a fumble against Iowa State. As a senior in high school he earned
all-state honors after posting 149 tackles.




RETURN UNIT

Kent State has no shortage of options on punt and kickoff returns.






Anthony
Bowman was an all-conference kick returner at Scottsdale Community
College.


Entering fall camp senior Anthony Bowman and sophomore Dri Archer are slated to return kickoffs and sixth-year senior Eugene Jarvis is the projected punt returner.


Bowman and Archer provide the Flashes with plenty of speed to get up-field
in a hurry. That should lead to better field position for Keith and the Flashes' offense.


Bowman, an all-conference kick returner at Scottsdale Community College in
2008, led the Flashes with 913 all-purpose yards last fall. He averaged 22
yards per kickoff return, good for eighth in the MAC. He also saw action at
H-Back, where he ended the season with six catches for 115 yards and added
29 rushing yards on six carries.


Archer turned in a terrific freshman season at running back. He was fourth
on the team with 743 all-purpose yards and second with 246 rushing yards. He
also caught 19 passes for 231 yards. He was more impressive on kick returns
where he posted a team-high 24.2 yards per return.


Returning punts will be somewhat new to Jarvis, who will suit up for the Flashes
for the sixth season. He redshirted in 2005 then became one of the nation's
most potent running backs from 2006-2008. He suffered a season-ending injury
in week 2 last fall but the NCAA granted Jarvis a sixth year of eligibility
and he plans to make the most of it. Last fall Jarvis returned five punts for
77 yards. That's just 13 yards off the total punt return yardage Kent
State posted in all of the 2008 season. With Jarvis returning punts for a full
season the Golden Flashes should become much more productive in that area.




POSITION STRENGTHS

With starters returning at punter, kicker, holder and with both snappers
returning, Kent State's special teams units should again be productive. Consistency
has been a problem for the Flashes' special teams units in the past. With experienced
support personnel--the snappers and holders--and talented kickers in place
that should be a thing of the past.


It's that consistency that should make Kent State's special teams live up
to their name and become a "special" part of the game.




POSITION WEAKNESSES

Kent State's return units haven't provided many big plays. With the speed
of Bowman and Archer on kick returns the Flashes should see major improvements
in field position in 2010. Jarvis should do the same on punt returns.




OVERVIEW

There's no scientific proof but much of Martin's hair loss can
be attributed to play of his special teams units over the past several seasons,
especially early in his six-year tenure.


From botched point after attempts to the inability to field punts, Kent State's
special teams provided many moments of pure horror for Martin and Golden Flashes' football
fans.


That seems to be a thing of the past as the kicking game has been solidified
with outstanding snappers and holders and a consistent kicker and punter.


If Rinehart and Cortez can build off their 2009 performances and the Golden
Flashes get production out of their return units, the special teams should
put the offense and defense in favorable positions.


Kent State simply cannot afford special teams breakdowns in 2010. With the
experience they return on offense and defense the Golden Flashes are in position
to compete for a MAC title. They can't do it without the special teams.


 


















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