Special Teams Scholarships Catch Up To Importance Of Positions

Oliver Straw

For many years, college football coaches have preached about the importance of special teams. Whether they called them by an awkward phrase, such as “the third side of the ball” or something more descriptive, the message was the same — winning on punts, kickoffs and placekicks is just as important as having an edge on offensive or defensive plays from scrimmage.

Yet, for much of that time, scholarship offers didn’t immediately follow — or at least get offered to very many high schoolers in the first go-round of recruiting. The majority of specialists — punters, placekickers and long snappers — joined teams as walk-ons, with those earning starting jobs getting placed on scholarships later in their careers.

As the college landscape has changed, though, so too has the timing of those offers. More specialists are now getting offers on their initial go-rounds in Division I, and West Virginia was no exception in the Class of 2022, as it offered and signed Australian Ollie Straw without benefit of an in-person visit before last week. That came after WVU had followed the previous plan with some of its recent booters, such as transfer punters Josh Growden and Tyler Sumpter, both of whom played most of their careers elsewhere (LSU and Troy, respectively).

Get all of our print editions with your subscription today!

Straw, like Growden, is a product of ProKick Australia, which trains and preps Australians for American football. it has done such a good job in teaching its students how to perform in the U.S. game that it is now the go-to source for kickers, and lands numerous scholarships for its players right out of the gate, and expectations are high for those who do so.

“The ProKick guys do a really good job at looking what kind of schemes you use, and they put on film the types of kicks that fit your scheme,” WVU head coach Neal Brown said. “On film, you make them track the ball and [the film] has a timer so you know what the ball get-off is, and you can see the hang time. You get to see everything you need to see outside of game action.

“He’s got to go win the job, but that’s why we signed him,” Brown said of the odds that Straw will compete for the punting job from Day One. “Ollie is unique. He can kick with both feet. He can roll to his right and roll to his left. He can kick spirals and kick end over end. What Ollie will give us the opportunity to do is let us change field position. He’ll let us kick away from returners, and people may have to have two returners. Two returners means less rushers. We think he can potentially be a game-changing type of player on special teams.”

One aspect of the “game-changing” description that Brown didn’t mention was blocked kicks, or more accurately the prevention thereof. West Virginia suffered a blocked punt and a blocked field goal this season, and those plays can obviously have huge effects on games. Straw, with his ability to roll to either side and kick it with either foot, could help West Virginia protect better and get the ball away more cleanly than it did this year on punts, which became somewhat dicey in the latter third of the season.

“Our fans remember Josh Growden, who was tremendous with the pooch punt, and with him we were able to roll both left and right,” Brown recalled. “Josh did a nice job. Ollie can do that, and he has a stronger leg than Josh. The (Australians) can change field position, and take the return out and make people not want to rush you. They have been able to kick away, they are great at placement, and have the ability to go right and left. That lets you alternate your protection. Their track record is effective.”

* * * * * *

The old school, earn your scholarship route is still in play, though. West Virginia long snapper Austin Brinkman and placekicker Casey Legg won starting jobs after coming to WVU as walk-ons, and both were the recipient of feel-good moments when their achievements in earning scholarships were announced.


The importance of an accurate and quickly-delivering long snapper can’t be overstated, even though it’s not the first position that comes to mind when discussing the importance of special teams. Also important is the operation of the entire placekick sequence, which also depends on snapper, holder and kicker. West Virginia hopes it has all of those spots locked down now for the coming couple of years.

Home Page forums Special Teams Scholarships Catch Up To Importance Of Positions

  • This topic has 5 replies, 4 voices, and was last updated by Kevin Kinder.
Viewing 6 posts - 1 through 6 (of 6 total)
  • Author
    Posts
  • #167234

    For many years, college football coaches have preached about the importance of special teams. Whether they called them by an awkward phrase, such as “
    [See the full post at: Special Teams Scholarships Catch Up To Importance Of Positions]

    #167235

    Would like to see a kicker who can put the ball in the end zone on kickoffs

    #167237

    Not many times do you get to congratulate a W/O , not a PWO but a W/O that has earned a full schollie.  And even rarer is it that a LS gets that honor as a W/O.  And not too many times do we realize how vital a good LS is to the team.

    Congrats Austin Brinkman.

    #167273

    Agreed cc. Only 11 teams have fewer touchbacks than WVU this year, although that number is skewed by the total number of chances a team had to kick off. No stats I have on TB ratio.

    #167450

    And kick it high with plenty of hang time, so no chance for a return, and be able to have it high enough that it could land inside the ten with enough hang time there’s no chance of a return.

    #167459

    Agreed again. WVU did try to misx those sorts of kicks in some this year, and was ok at forcing some fair catches. Those aren’t included in the number of touchbacks I was looking at – not sure where those are listed.

Viewing 6 posts - 1 through 6 (of 6 total)
  • You must be logged in to reply to this topic.

Home Page forums Special Teams Scholarships Catch Up To Importance Of Positions

Home Page forums Special Teams Scholarships Catch Up To Importance Of Positions