In what seems like years ago, I wrote a piece wrapping up the East Carolina Pirates' 2015 season. The season, as a whole, was a disappointment with the Pirates just missing out on bowl eligibility.
While the season did not go as expected, one thing that did go well was special teams. In particular, the players that transferred from other FBS programs to join the Pirates were excellent on special teams. Between punter Worth Gregory and kicker Davis Plowman, ECU had one of the most impressive one-two punches in the AAC.
Coming out of high school, Worth Gregory was a highly rated punter from Fort Mill, South Carolina. He was asked to join the Alabama Crimson Tide as a preferred walk-on following his senior season. Despite interest from South Carolina, Gregory joined Alabama for the 2012 season.
The freshman was redshirted during his first year with Alabama, earning a rings as part of the 2012 National Championship and SEC Championship team. After the season, he realized that he would not get the chance at extended playing time and decided to transfer.
That is when he spoke with Ruffin McNeill. The former East Carolina head coach talked Gregory into checking out Greenville, North Carolina. The 6-3 kicker immediately fell in love with the area, but still had offers from North Carolina and Maryland to mull over. After making his decision, Gregory became a member of the East Carolina Pirates.
Gregory has to sit out the 2013 season due to transfer rules, but burst on the scene in 2014 with back to back seasons of a 43+ yards per punt average. Not only has the rising senior punted for distance, he has also landed 46.8% of his punts inside the 20-yard line. He landed 32 punts inside the 20 last year alone.
Here he is drilling a 74-yard punt that was downed at the one-yard line versus South Florida.
Starting placekicker Davis Plowman, a Roswell, Georgia native, joined the Pirates via Texas A&M. Plowman was another kicking walk-on, looking to bring competition to the kickers on the roster at the time. Plowman impressed the Aggies, but could not find a role with the program during his redshirt freshman season.
After the 2012 season, Plowman followed Gregory to Greenville as an SEC transfer. Plowman was not required to sit out the 2013 season. He saw limited action during his first two years at ECU, going 3-3 on extra point attempts and 1-1 on field goal attempts during his redshirt freshman season, while going 1-1 on extra point attempts and 0-1 on field goal attempts in 2014.
The 2015 season saw Plowman finally earn the starting placekicker job due to the graduation of Warren Harvey. The junior went 10-12 on field goal attempts in 2015, hitting 7-7 from inside 40 yards. His only two misses on the season were 40 and 48 yards. Plowman also connected on 37 of 39 extra point attempts on the year.
Here is the rising senior nailing a 50-yard blindfolded kick after practice.
Finally, we have the new guy on the block. Virginia Tech transfer Eric Kristensen is a junior that will be fighting with Plowman and Caleb Pratt for kicking duties. Pratt, while not a FBS transfer, did kickoff on 60 of the team's 64 kickoffs in 2015.
Kristensen was an odd case with much of the Virginia Tech coaching staff virtually unaware of him until the final games of the season. The Hokies starting kicker was dismissed and Frank Beamer named Kristensen as the starter for the final two games of the regular season. He missed his first attempt, but nailed the next four to go 4-5 in games versus Maryland and Virginia. He also nailed all four extra point attempts in those two games.
Michael Branthover took over the kicking duties in the Sun Bowl, a 42-12 loss to UCLA, and that was basically the end of Kristensen's playing time at Virginia Tech. He did stay with the team in 2014, but saw action in only one game and attempted no field goals or extra points. He has two years of eligibility left with East Carolina.
For a team that has three of the entire team's five FBS transfers on special teams, expect the Pirates to continue using the kicking game as a way to get Power Five talent to Greensville in the future.