Games are often won (or lost) by the play of specialists. Kickers, punters and return men may not see the field often but their short time in the limelight is usually more pressure-filled than that of anyone else on the team. The FCS is full of talent at these positions, but the following 20 players are the best the subdivision has to offer in 2022.
20. Will Powers, P - Princeton
Will Powers has been as steady as ever for the Tigers handling punt duties. As a sophomore last season, he landed a spot on the Ivy League’s All-Conference team after booting 36 punts for a total of 1,578 yards (averaging 43.8 per punt). A third of those punts went for 50 yards or more and only three ended as touchbacks. Powers pinned his opposition inside their own 20-yard line nine times as well. He posted a career-best punt of 75 yards in Princeton’s game against Brown last fall and was a major part of why the Tigers were able to go 9-1 and claim a share of the Ivy League title in 2021. Expect much of the same from Powers this time out.
19. Garrett Urban, P/K - Grambling State
Grambling State’s Garrett Urban had a great 2021 when he connected on 15 of his 17 field goal tries. He hit his longest field goal of the year with a 45-yarder against Alcorn State and he also hit 18 of his 19 PATs. Urban was responsible for 63 points last fall and now as a senior is looking to make an even bigger impact.
18. Charles Peeler, PR - Delaware State
Delaware State’s Charles Peeler experienced a breakout season as a punt returner a year ago. He ran back 25 punts averaging 11 yards per return. He did not find the end zone but his 276 total yards ranked fifth best among punt returners at the FCS level. He appeared in all 11 games for the Hornets and averaged over 25 punt return yards per contest. Peeler is entering his redshirt senior season and brings a great level of explosiveness to the DSU special teams unit.
17. Bryce Leighton, P - Montana State
The Bobcats’ run to an appearance in the national championship in 2021 may not have happened without the outstanding play of unsung heroes like then-freshman punter Bryce Leighton. In a pivotal game against conference foe Eastern Washington, Leighton booted five balls, four of which wound up inside the 20-yard line. In MSU’s semifinal win over SDSU, Leighton played a big part also, landing three of his four punts inside the 20 and putting the Jacks into tough field position. On the season he punted 70 times for 2,838 yards, averaging 40.5 per kick. He earned Big Sky Special Teams Player of the Week honors once last year and looks to again be a big part of the ‘Cats special teams in 2022.
16. Adrian Olivo, K - North Carolina Central
Adrian Olivo had a fantastic sophomore season with the Eagles last year. He earned All-MEAC First-Team honors thanks to a field goal percentage of 91.7% (good for second best in the nation). Olivo has made 21 of his 25 career field goal attempts and has yet to have a kick blocked. His leg strength also has helped NC Central greatly on kickoffs of which he’s attempted 89 total. With an average of 50.3 yards per kickoff, it’s quite difficult for opponents to get a solid chance at a return. Olivo will be looking for his third consecutive season leading the Eagles in scoring as junior.
15. Kevin Ryan, K/P - Idaho State
Idaho State’s Kevin Ryan is a do-it-all guy for the Bengals’ special teams. While mainly handling punts, Ryan has also shown he can serve as a kicker when need be, attempting three field goals last season and going 6-of-6 on PATs. During the shortened spring season Ryan made eight of his 13 field goal attempts. While punting he had 19 boots of 50+ yards and pinned opponents inside their own 20-yard line 15 times in 2021. With only five touchbacks and zero blocked punts, the ball is typically very safe in his hands. The sure-handed Ryan is heading into what should be a productive senior campaign.
14. Axel Perez, P/K - Hampton
Axel Perez only missed field goal last fall for Hampton, going 10-for-11. That was good for a success rate of 90.9% tying for second best in the country among kickers. Perez is more than just a kicker, however. He also handles punting duties for the Pirates. In 2021 he booted the ball 49 times for over 1,800 total yards. He averaged 38.2 yards per punt and had a long of 51. Hampton is counting on another successful season from their do-it-all specialist this season.
13. Isaiah Gomez, K - UC Davis
UC Davis has fielded a strong special teams unit as of late and kicker Isaiah Gomez is at the center of it. In his two seasons with the Aggies, Gomez has converted on 23 of his 30 field goal attempts and has hit 53 of 55 PATs. He has a career long kick of 45 yards and has several games of multiple field goal makes under his belt. Gomez was instrumental in UC Davis’ upset over Tulsa last fall, going a perfect 4-for-4 on his field goal tries and accounting for 13 of the team’s 19 points. Once again the Aggies are picked to be a formidable team in 2022 and once again they’ll have the rock-solid Gomez handling kicks.
12. Calvin Jones, KR - Western Carolina
Calvin Jones made a name for himself as a freshman with the Catamounts last fall. He returned 19 kicks for 590 yards, averaging 28.3 a pop and broke free for a 95-yard touchdown against ETSU. He grabbed a spot on the All-SoCon Second-Team and was selected as a freshman All-American as a return specialist by HERO Sports. With his sophomore season soon arriving, expect Jones to continue to build on what has been an impressive start to a promising career.
11. Chris Campos, K - Stephen F. Austin
Chris Campos improved greatly on what was a rocky 2020-21 season. While serving as SFA’s kicker last fall, Campos connected on 20 of his 24 field goal attempts and did not miss a single PAT (49-for-49). He had two games where he made three field goals including a heroic performance in Week 2 when the Lumberjacks nearly upset Texas Tech. He nailed a 53-yarder against Dixie State (Utah Tech) in Week 8 and accounted for 109 points. SFA is a hot pick to make a run this season. With Campos kicking the ball, it’s a very real possibility.
10. Jacob Saylors, KR - East Tennessee State
Jacob Saylors had a career-best season in 2021 as the Buccaneers’ primary kick returner. With an average of 28.8 yards per runback, Saylors’ 2021 campaign ranks second in ETSU program history in that category. He mustered up 720 kickoff return yards, fourth best in the FCS. He played in all 13 of the Bucs’ games last year and helped in their run to the quarterfinals in the postseason. Now entering his senior season, Saylors should again be one of the more dynamic players on ETSU’s special teams unit.
9. Blake Glessner, K - Montana State
Montana State’s Blake Glessner put up a heck of a freshman season for the Bobcats in 2021. He made 20 field goals and nailed 48 of his 51 PATs. His 108 points scored were seventh most in a single season in MSU program history. He also nailed two field goals of 50+ yards, hitting a career-best 55-yarder in Week 8 against Idaho State. Glessner was equally as productive on his kickoffs, pinning opponents inside the 25 yard line 17 times. He also booted 35 touchbacks. He kicked Montana State all the way through the playoffs, making at least one field goal in three of MSU’s four postseason contests. He’s easily one of the best kickers in the Big Sky as his sophomore season approaches.
8. Robert McMinn, PR - Alabama State
Robert McMinn was just a freshman last fall but he made several upperclassmen look silly in the return game. Playing in all 11 games for Alabama State, McMinn averaged over 10 yards per runback on punts and finished the season with a total of 244. He was also only one of two return men to make two house calls on punt returns in 2021 (the other being Samford’s Montrell Washington). McMinn again looks to be one of the more dangerous returners in the FCS this season.
7. Kyle Sentkowski, K - Sacramento State
The Big Sky’s most consistent kicker as of late is Sac State’s Kyle Sentkowski. He only had one game last year in which he didn’t make a field goal (and even then he went 4-of-4 on PATs) and his 21 made field goals tied for third best in the subdivision. Sentkowski was responsible for 102 of the Hornets’ total points last season and he can find the uprights from almost anywhere. Against Cal Poly in Week 10, Sentkowski drilled a 51-yarder that helped Sac State nab their sixth win in what was an eight-game winning streak. Several have the Hornets making another run at a conference title and Sentkowski is one of several returning studs on a very good roster.
6. Jose Pizano, K - Missouri State
Jose Pizano has racked up the hardware as MSU’s kicker, taking home AP Second-Team All-American honors and All-MVC Second-Team accolades in 2021 alone. Pizano has a career field goal percentage of 85.2% thanks to 23 made kicks in 27 tries. He was a scoring machine for the Bears last year accounting for 109 of the team’s points, the most ever in a single season by a kicker in program history. He has great range as proven by his 51-yard make against SIU last fall. Pizano is also solid on the kickoff game where he averages almost 60 yards per kick. All-around, there is no better kicker in the Missouri Valley.
5. Isaiah Bolden, KR/PR - Jackson State
No player in the nation (FBS or FCS) had a better kickoff return average than Isaiah Bolden last year. His 36.9 yards per runback was tops across the board for college football. On top of that impressive feat, though, Bolden also returned seven punts in 2021 for an average of 10.1 yards. The Florida State transfer broke free on a 91-yard kickoff return touchdown in the SWAC Championship game against Prairie View A&M. Bolden was one of only four FCS players last year to notch two touchdowns on kickoff returns and there’s no reason to believe he’ll be slowing down any time soon.
4. Jerry Rice, K - VMI
VMI scored 344 total points last season and nearly a quarter of those points came off the foot of Jerry Rice. Rice proved himself to be one of the best kickers in the country in 2021 with a success rate of 93.8% on his field goal tries (15-of-16) with his most impressive performance coming in the Keydets’ Week 6 win over Chattanooga. Rice connected on five field goals in that game including a season-best 49-yarder and the eventual game winner in overtime. On top of that he was perfect on his PATs, making all 35 attempts. Rice looks to again be one of the best kickers the FCS has to offer in 2022.
3. Grant Burkett, P - Missouri State
The best punter in the FCS right now is Missouri State’s Grant Burkett. In 2021, he was a consensus All-American and has the best punting average (46.2 yards) of all returning punters in the nation. On his career, Burkett has played in just 15 games for the Bears. In those contests, he’s had 17 kicks of 50+ yards and has pinned opposing offenses inside their own 20 yard line 15 times. He’s forced 15 more fair catches and has only had the ball go through the end zone twice. If you want consistency, Burkett’s your guy. And with two seasons of eligibility left, he could be a top punter for a while.
2. Richard McCollum, K - Western Carolina
Richard McCollum was the only kicker in the country last season that didn’t miss a field goal (of those who attempted at least 10), going 12 for 12 on his tries. Even more impressive, McCollum was also flawless on his PATs with an unblemished 42 for 42. He was quite literally perfect. Such efforts earned him a spot on the Phil Steele All-Conference Second-Team for the SoCon. On his kickoffs, McCollum averaged 58 yards per kick and put the ball in the end zone five times. Western Carolina is hoping for another stellar year from their star kicker.
1. Malik Flowers, KR - Montana
There’s no return man in the country more dangerous with the ball in his hands than Malik Flowers. Montana’s speedster has five total kick return touchdowns on his resume (a school record), two of which came last season. Flowers’ five career return touchdowns are third all-time in FCS history behind only Monmouth’s Jerome Mathis (6) and Weber State’s Rashid Shaheed (7). Flowers has returned 72 kicks in his four years with the Grizzlies and has racked up over 2,000 return yards. He’s lightning quick and is a threat to take it the distance any time he has a touch. With house calls of 99 and 100 yards under his belt, it’s safe to say he’s one of the best to ever do it.