Looking At WVU’s Position Battles – Special Teams
head coach Neal Brown traditionally had outstanding special teams play at Troy, and he promises to bring that same emphasis to WVU. He has a fairly veteran unit to build around.
In the final installment of our 10-part series, today we’ll look at West Virginia’s special teams.
(Note – Year of eligibility for returning players listed below is for the 2019 season, while that listed for the departing players is their 2018 class. The * indicates a newcomer who is already enrolled at WVU.)
Returning – Evan Staley (K, Jr.), Casey Legg (K, RFr.), Evan Matthes (P, RFr.), Rex Sunahara (LS, Sr.), Kyle Poland (LS, Jr.), J.P. Hadley (LS, RFr.)
Departing – Luke Hogan (K, Jr.), Billy Kinney (P, Sr.), Skyler Simcox (K, Jr.)
Newcomers – Kolton McGhee (P/PK, Fr.)
The only starter lost from WVU’s specialist group is Billy Kinney, who has graduated after handling the Mountaineers’ punting chores the past three years. He averaged 41.2 yards on 170 punts in his career. He also was the holder for placekicks, so that’s another role West Virginia must fill.
The Mountaineers’ replacement for Kinney as their punter for 2019 may actually not be on campus yet. Kolton McGhee (6-0, 191 lbs., Fr.) was a very highly-regarded punter and placekicker while at Bishop Guilfoyle High in Altoona, Pa., and he’ll immediately get an opportunity to win either or both those duties when he arrives at WVU this summer.
McGhee’s path to the punting job would appear to be a little clearer since the incumbent has graduated. Still, Evan Matthes (6-1, 208 lbs., RFr.) will try to get a leg up in that punting competition with a strong showing this spring.
West Virginia’s returning placekicker, Evan Staley (6-1, 184 lbs., Jr.), also could be a contender at punter.
McGhee also is regarded as an excellent placekicker, but he’s going to have to be awfully good in that area if he going to supplant Staley. A native of Romney, W.Va., Staley came to WVU in 2016 as a walk-on. After a redshirt as a true freshman, he eventually became West Virginia’s main placekicker in the later half of 2017. Then last fall he held the job from the outset. He made 59-of-60 PATs and 16-of-20 field goals. He was 7-of-7 on field goals from inside 40 yards, as his only misses came from 40, 44, 51 and 53 yards. He did hit 9-of-11 from 40+, including two in the Camping World Bowl (44 and 49) when he accounted for four three-pointers in all.
Staley also handled most of the Mountaineers’ kickoff duties. In addition, Casey Legg (6-4, 199 lbs., RFr.), who was a soccer player at Cross Lanes Christian and never played high school football, got a chance to kick off in a game last year as well, though he ultimately redshirted. Luke Hogan also was used for kickoffs a few times last year, but the walk-on has decided not to return to WVU for his junior season.
While a new holder must be found to replace Kinney, WVU’s primary long snapper last year, Rex Sunahara (6-6, 240 lbs., Sr.), returns for one final season after performing nearly flawlessly in ’18. Kyle Poland (6-2, 229 lbs., Jr.) was Sunahara’s backup last year, and got a chance to snap against Baylor. He’ll be in competition with J.P. Hadley (6-2, 258 lbs., RFr.) this spring for not only the backup job in ’19 but probably the starting snapper duties in ’20.
In terms of punt and kickoff returns, Troy was very successful in each phase under Brown. Last season his Trojans averaged 9.6 yards per punt return, which included a 58-yarder for a TD in a win at Nebraska, and 25.0 yards on kickoff returns. Both those numbers were better than West Virginia’s in 2018, when WVU averaged 5.6 yards on punt returns and 17.7 yards on kickoff returns.
Marcus Simms handled most of the Mountaineers’ return duties last year, averaging 9.7 yards on six punt return tries and 17.6 yards on 10 kickoff returns. The now-graduated David Sills was also back on punt returns a lot last year, though most of the time he fair caught the ball. So a backup in that area behind Simms will have to be found. Tevin Bush returned kickoffs at times last year (seven for 18.6 yards per try). The diminutive receiver was used a few times one punt returns in 2017 (three for two yards), but didn’t have any punt returns in a game last year, though he could be an option there this coming season.
Previously In The Series