Countdown to Kickoff: The Most Overlooked 11-Special Teams
Oklahoma State will kick off its 15th season under head coach Mike Gundy this fall. Cowboys Ride For Free will have a 15-day countdown with one article each day until the Cowboys’ season opener Aug. 30 at Oregon State.
We all remember Tyreek Hill’s punt return(s) to send Bedlam to overtime in 2014. We remember Ben Grogan’s kick to win it. We remember the 23 blocked punts since 2013, which leads the country. We also remember Quinn Sharp’s missed field goal against Iowa State in 2011 that ultimately cost the Cowboys a chance at the BCS National Championship.
Point being, special teams make or break many close games. And even though many of the less talented guys play on the “third phase,” their importance should not be understated. The Cowboys will play in a lot of close games this year, and a blocked kick, punt return, or even a pinpoint “golf shot” inside the five yard line can swing the whole season.
Last year, head coach Mike Gundy hired M.K Taylor and Patrick Cashmore as special teams analysts, and the unit showed improvement from the lackluster season before. Expect more growth this year.
Many players make a name for themselves on special teams before promotion to defense or offense. Like Amen Ogbongbemiga, who has seen his role drastically increase on the Cowboy defense after a slew of big plays on special teams last year, which included a blocked punt vs Boise State.
With that said, here are some players to watch on special teams this year.
It only makes sense to start this list with the senior kicker. Ammendola is entering his senior year as sixth on OSU’s all-time scoring list, with a realistic chance to climb up to as high as second, behind Ben Grogan. He has undeniable leg talent, but has had an inconsistent career thus far. The senior from Pennsylvania has had some kicks sail through the uprights that looked like they would be good from 65 yards, and he’s also missed from under 20 yards multiple times. Last year, he missed an extra point and a 41 yarder in a one point loss to Oklahoma. If Ammendola can find a rhythm in his senior year he will be of great value in close games.
The 29 year old freshman who made himself a fan favorite from his bed check joke on twitter, attended ProKick in Australia, a program that is renowned for pumping out elite punters.
Well we can now add “Someone knocking on my door each night to ensure I’m sticking to my bed time” to the list of things I never thought I’d experience as a married 29 year old. #FallCamp
— Tom Hutton (@tomhutton25) August 2, 2019
His maturity will make him a natural leader on the special teams unit; basically a player coach. He also has a cannon for a leg.
From 2008-2015, the Cowboys averaged two return touchdowns per year. Tyreek Hill, Justin Gilbert, and Dez Bryant were all elite returners during that time. But OSU has not returned a punt or kickoff to the crib since Jalen McCleskey’s punt return against Texas Tech in 2015. It feels like the Cowboys haven’t even tried for it since. Last year, Dillon Stoner called about a hundred fair catches (an exaggeration because I can’t find the real stat). If this is to change, Chubba Hubbard should be the return man. He is the most explosive player on the team and can end this monotonous streak. But nothing will change if coach Gundy doesn’t emphasize the return game. If he doesn’t, this season will consist of nothing more than fair catches again.
I mentioned earlier that many players earn more playing time through their performance on special teams. Others spend their whole career on the unit. Senior Phillip Redwine-Bryant is one of those guys, and he is an expert at his craft. Redwine-Bryant walked on to OSU in 2015 cherishes every snap he gets to play. Last year, he led OSU in special teams tackles, which earned him a scholarship for his senior season. Not only is he great in coverage, but he is an example of the rewards that hard work reaps. If everyone on special teams matches his intensity then the Cowboy’s will not have to worry about being on the wrong end of a momentous special teams play.
Of course, there’s always someone who emerges on special teams. It’s frequently someone no one would have ever guessed. It’ll be interesting to see who it is this year and if they’ll earn any time on the other teams.