WVU Football Questions For 2018: Special Teams
Question 13 – Special Teams – Other than long snapper, most of the Mountaineers handling the primary special teams duties at the end of the 2017 season will return in 2018.
Yet there will be competition for the kicking duties. And competition is always good. That’s especially true for WVU’s placekicking and punting jobs, because West Virginia was pretty good in both areas last year, but if competition can provide an upgrade, so much the better.
At punter, Billy Kinney will be a senior this coming fall having been the Mountaineer starting punter the past two seasons. The 6-foot-4, 216-pound product of University High School in Morgantown saw his overall average dip a bit this past year in comparison to 2016 (40.9 from 41.7), but he was better placing the ball deep in enemy territory, as 22 of his 70 punts stayed inside the opposing 20. WVU’s punt coverage units did give up a couple long returns, especially against Kansas State, but overall West Virginia’s net punt number of 36.3 was OK.
Kinney will have to perform well to keep his starting punting job next fall, though. While his top backup this past season, Jonn Young, is transferring, WVU is dipping its toe into the Australian punter phenomena that is sweeping college football. West Virginia has a verbal commitment from Angus Davies from Melbourne, which is the second-most populated city in Australia and on the country’s southern coast. Coming through ProKick Australia, which is a training academy for punters, Davies is the latest in a growing line of Australian punters who are making their way to American colleges. The last five Ray Guy Award winners are all from Australia, and WVU hopes Davies is as good as the past two, Michael Dickson of Texas and Mitch Wishnowsky of Utah, having faced each last season. Because foreign student-athletes have to jump through a few more hoops to be academically eligible for NCAA competition, Davies did not sign during the early National Letter of Intent period in December, but Mountaineer coaches are confidence he’ll be in Morgantown this summer and ready to compete with Kinney in the fall.
West Virginia also typically brings in a walk-on punter or two each year. Evan Matthes, who was a second-team all-state selection for South Lakes High in Reston, Va., recently announced that he would be headed to WVU this summer as a preferred walk-on.
The same competitive situation that will be under way at punter should also take place for WVU’s placekicking duties. After Mike Molina, a senior last fall, injured his hip midway through the season, redshirt freshman walk-on Evan Staley came in and performed very well. The 6-foot-1, 185-pound product of Romney, W.Va., wasn’t asked to kick any long field goals, as 36 yards was his longest attempt. But he was six-of-seven on field goal tries overall with a 34-yarder his only miss. He also was a perfect 16-for-16 on extra points. In addition, he handled WVU’s kickoffs all season long, and recorded touchbacks on 27 of 77 boots. Statistically, West Virginia’s kickoff coverage was in the middle of the pack in the Big 12, so there’s some room for improvement there.
Luke Hogan, who will be a sophomore this fall, is a walk-on who will push for placekicking work, but Staley’s main competition figures to come from Skyler Simcox, a transfer from Western Kentucky who will be eligible for game competition in 2018. A native of Abingdon, Va., Simcox actually started his college career at Emory & Henry, where he made nine-of-11 field goals as a freshman in 2015. Looking for a higher level, he transferred to Western Kentucky in 2016, and immediately won the kicking job for the Hilltoppers. He converted 16-of-22 field goals as a sophomore, with a pair of 50-yarders in that mix. He also made 70-of-71 extra points. He didn’t play for WKU this past season, looking to transfer again. He arrived at West Virginia for the start of the spring semester earlier in January, and is now going through weight training and conditioning with his new teammate.
Simcox comes to WVU with a scholarship already in hand, and the Mountaineers don’t give those out for charitable reasons, especially to specialists. The 6-foot, 190-pound junior-to-be is going to be expected to compete for the placekicking job immediately, and while Staley was solid this past season, he’s going to have to continue to perform at a high level if he wants to remain West Virginia’s placekicker in 2018.
Sam Trapuzzano also will be working out with West Virginia’s placekickers, having recently transferred to WVU from Bucknell.
Kinney has been the Mountaineers’ holder the past two seasons, and has performed those duties flawlessly. He’ll likely handle that chore again this year.
The Mountaineer snapping the ball to Kinney, though, is going to change. Nick Meadows, who handled the snapping duty the past two years, has graduated. Meadows was very good at his job, and now WVU will look for a new piece to the specialist puzzle. Kyle Poland, a sophomore-to-be from Morgantown (W.Va.) High, has been on the squad for a couple years. Rex Sunahara also returns after two years in with the Mountaineers. A 6-foot-6, 227-pound junior-to-be who attended Bay High near Cleveland, Sunahara started his college career at Rhode Island, where he saw action in eight games as a long snapper. But with his father, Reed Sunahara, having been recently hired as the Mountaineer volleyball coach, Rex decided to transfer to WVU. After redshirting in 2016, Rex was Meadows’ backup this past season and even saw game action in the blowout of Delaware State. Now he’ll try to cement the starting job this spring. West Virginia’s hasn’t signed a scholarship long snapper as part of this class, but it will almost certainly added some walk-ons and potentially a scholarship student-athlete to compete with Poland and Sunahara for this underappreciated job.
In terms of kickoff and punt returns, Marcus Simms handled both those duties fairly well this past year. He wasn’t perfect, and a misjudged punt against Utah that led to a turnover, which was another piece of WVU’s bowl implosion.
But for the most part, Simms was a significant upgrade from West Virginia’s returners in recent years. The Mountaineers have been good in the kickoff returns for a long while, but their punt returners had struggled significantly in much of the Holgorsen era. Simms, who averaged 26.3 yards on kickoff returns, wound up with an average of 5.8 yards on punt returns, which more than tripled WVU’s average from the previous season. For his work, the sophomore earned second-team all-Big 12 recognition. He’ll look to improve up that in 2018. Tevin Bush was Simms’ primary backup in both return phases this past season, though his use was limited (three kickoff returns for 70 yards and three punt returns for two yards), because Simms handled most of the work in ’17 and probably will again in ’18.