At times in 2017, the special teams of the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers saved games for them. At other time, the looked like they severely needed improvement. This season, fans in Bowling Green and beyond are hoping that that the team takes lessons from that campaign into a season where they are short on veteran leadership. This is true of the offense, the defense, and the kicking game.
Today, we’ll take a look at the latter of those fronts, led by co-special teams coordinators Jami DeBerry and Maurice Crum along with graduate assistant and former WKU kicker Garret Schwettman. If you missed my previews of the offense and the defense, you can read those by clicking the links.
Ryan Nuss returns for his redshirt senior season after going 10 for 16 (11th in C-USA in 2017) on field goals last season and making 39 out of 40 extra points. Arguably the biggest moment of his season, and possibly his college career, came when he hit a game-winning 37-yard field goal in triple-OT against Middle Tennessee. With a career percentage of 62.5%, consistency is the name of the game for Nuss in his final campaign, particularly on midrange field goals. Nuss missed five kicks between 20 and 39 yards in 2017.
With the departure of Jake Collins, who is now a graduate transfer at Northwestern, redshirt junior Alex Rinella will see an increased role as the starting punter and holder this season in addition to being the team’s kickoff specialist. While he hasn’t punted at the college level before, he has good power in that leg, evidence by 38% of his kickoffs being touchbacks last season. He even made the Ray Guy Award watch list for this season. In an interview with the Bowling Green Daily News, Nuss said of Rinella “He has fit right in. We’ve always known he was able to punt. He gets crazy height on his ball...It’s great to see him get what he deserves: to be a main guy.” Freshman Adam Krause, out of Montini Catholic in Chicago, is also on the roster if he is needed.
These guys have gotten better throughout camp and I’m excited about what the season holds for each them! Happy to have them over with my wife and I for a “White Squirrel” evening with a little homemade ice cream to top of off. #Tops #family pic.twitter.com/ICNooSqd2S— Garrett Schwettman (@coachschwettman) August 22, 2018
Sophomore Ben Reeder is back at the long snapper position after a near perfect season for the South Carolinian. There were no issues with any of his 113 snaps, including his two lateral snaps on successful trick plays. That performance earned him a 2017 Conference USA Honorable Mention and a spot on the Conference USA All-Freshman Team. Despite his youth, little worries me about the nation’s former top rated high school long snapper.
With Cameron Echols-Luper, Kylen Towner, and Nacarius Fant all gone, look for Lucky Jackson, Jacquez Sloan, and freshman Kawan Williams to take kick and punt return duties this year. Sloan returned five kickoffs for a total of 87 yards in 2017, including a 26 yarder. Jackson is the most proven in terms of athleticism, so it stands to reason that he would prove successful in that role. That being said, it would make sense if they save him exclusively for offense.