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Grading the FIU Special Teams: Another solid year

Florida International’s special teams unit was among the best in the nation.

Western Kentucky v Florida International
The combination of Jose Borregales and Stone Wilson were once again among the best in Conference USA.
Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Special teams are often the unsung heroes of a football team. For FIU, their steady play throughout the season deserves its own attention.

Kicking: Take a look across the landscape of college football and you’ll see that having a weapon opposed to a liability at the kicker position is a rarity.

Jose Borregales fits into the former and not the latter.

UTSA v Florida International
Jose Borregales will return as one of the top kickers in Conference USA.
Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images

Having the privilege to watch him on the field during pregame warm-ups, Borregales hits from 60 yards with ease. I counted four made kicks from 60 yards out in warm-ups before the Charlotte game.

The Miami Booker T. Washington product hit on 14 of his 18 kicks in 2018, a one made field-goal drop-off from his 15 of 18 in his freshman campaign.

The issue is that he realistically should have been 17 for 18.

Yes, that’s holding him to a high standard. However, with the talent he possesses, the standard is reasonable. FIU head coach Butch Davis thinks as much.

“Borregales is a kid I have all of the confidence in the world in. He’s right up there with the guys I’ve coaches who’ve kicked at the next level,” Davis said.

The misses against Old Dominion and Marshall were all makeable kicks.

That being said, the Panthers are in phenomenal shape for the next two seasons with number 30 at the position.

Mid-season grade: A

End of regular season grade: B+

Punter: A lot of punters around the nation are known for having large personalities.

But few back up their persona like FIU’s Stone Wilson.

Rice v Florida International
Punter Stone Wilson has a tremendous leg and is also one of the more athletic punters in the nation.
Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

The senior will leave FIU as the program’s all-time leader in punting yards. Like Borregales, Davis sees Wilson at the next level.

“Stone is a heck of a weapon and he’ll be kicking in the NFL next season,” Davis said.

While his net average was 37.9 yards which was good for 53rd in FBS football, Wilson had 20 kicks fair-caught and another 13 land inside of opponents 20-yard line.

His most outstanding day this year came in the Miami game, where he had nine punts for 423 yards with an average of 47 yards per punt.

Opponents averaged 10.7 yards per punt return, some of which had to do with Wilson’s booming leg.

The native of Southwest Florida will leave huge shoes to fill for whoever takes over the job in 2019.

Mid-season grade: A

End of regular season grade: A

Kickoffs: Kickoff specialist Sean Young had an outstanding year in 2018.

The senior recorded 43 of the teams 49 touchbacks which were second in Conference USA.

When teams managed returns, the kick coverage was excellent, as opponents averaged 17.9 yards per return which was good for 35th among FBS teams.

Mid-season grade: A-

End of regular season grade: A

Kick/Punt Returns: In the kick return game, the Panthers were pedestrian at best.

Receiver Austin Maloney led the way with eight returns for 149 yards, followed by D’Vonte Price and Isaiah Brown with seven returns betwen the two. Overall, FIU averaged 17.95 yards per return which was good for 112th in the nation.

The punt return game was a different story.

Florida International v Western Kentucky
The electric Maurice Alexander is one of the nation’s top punt-return men.
Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Dynamic receiver Maurice Alexander is a home-run threat every time he touches the ball. The former quarterback was one of only three players in FBS football this season to score as a receiver, runner and returner.

Alexander ranked eighth in the nation with an average of 15.6 yards per return.

Mid-season grade: B+

End of regular season grade: B+

Misc: Stone Wilson and Tommy Zozus made up the holder and long snapper duo in 2018 and along with the aforementioned kick-coverage, players like Daniel Jackson, Benny McCray and Shamar Munroe contributed on special teams.