MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. – As one of the three phases of the game of football, special teams plays a key role in any team’s success. That was evident in 2012, when special teams took center stage and was the difference in several Central Michigan wins.
One task facing special teams coordinator Kyle Nystrom this spring necessary to maintaining that level is developing a kicker for field goals and PATs. Gone to graduation is David Harman, who hit several big kicks in 2012, including the last-second game winner versus Iowa and a 50-yarder in the Little Caesars Bowl win over Western Kentucky. Staking a primary claim to that spot thus far has been redshirt freshman Ron Coluzzi.
“He works hard but just getting him to be consistent is the biggest thing,” said Nystrom. “He can hit the ball now. You listen to his foot hit the ball and it sounds like a Division I kicker. He has a pretty strong leg and when he matures, he will be better. We just need to get him to the point where he is the guy this year. He is not afraid to work, so he will put more than enough time into it.”
Coluzzi is also the frontrunner to handle kickoff duties but senior Connor Gagnon is also battling to fill that role. Gagnon has the edge in experience after kicking off 19 times in 2012 for a 58.9-yard average, with five touchbacks.
Richie Hogan returns for his senior season as the incumbent starter at punter. Hogan finished the 2012 season ranked fourth in the MAC in punting, averaging 40.8 yards per kick. He improved as the season progressed, ending it on a high note. His record setting 80-yard punt in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl flipped the field in CMU’s favor and proved to be a game changer. Hogan has sat out the spring season with an injury but will be 100 percent for the 2013 season.
Nystrom expects that Matt Cotiguala, a junior college transfer from the College of DuPage in Illinois, will push for the starting punting job during fall camp. In the meantime, while Hogan is sidelined and Cotiguala is not yet on campus, Coluzzi has been serving as the No. 1 punter.
With numerous key contributors returning, the CMU special teams coverage units should maintain continuity and continue to improve. Nystrom will look to players such as Kavon Frazier, Brandon Greer, A.J. Westendorp, Deon Butler, Avery Cunningham, Jarret Chapman, Jesse Kroll, Kevin King, and Connor Odykirk, to name a few, to form the core of those groups.
In the return game, Nystrom has focused on punt return as an area of needed improvement.
“Punt has been a disappointment. The positive with it is that we have held onto the ball pretty well. We have been on the side of being a little more conservative. But, the biggest thing for us is to handle the gunners getting down the field because those are the people that disrupt us the most. We haven’t been able to handle gunners consistently enough down the field in a long release. We need to find people that can handle that one-on-one because when you start doubling those guys, you get fakes run on you.”
In the mix for punt return duties are some of CMU’s biggest playmakers - Titus Davis, Andrew Flory, and Saylor Lavallii. Davis, Flory, and Lavallii in addition to Courtney Williams and even Zurlon Tipton are options for kick returns. Lavallii led CMU with 29 kick returns for 669 yards (23.1 avg.) in 2012.
Lending additional stability to the special teams, both of CMU’s long snappers, sophomore Mike Zenk and junior Nick Adams, are back in 2013.
The spring football season will culminate with the 2013 Central Michigan Spring Game Presented by Little Caesars, which is scheduled for a 1 p.m. start on Saturday at Kelly/Shorts Stadium.