Spring Football Report: Special Teams
April 10, 2014
The Clint Conque era at Stephen F. Austin has officially begun as the Lumberjacks have commenced on their 2014 spring practice schedule. Each practice session, SFAJacks.com will highlight a different position as today's report focuses on the Lumberjack special teams unit, anchored by returning All-SLC performers Jordan Wiggs and Nick Bruno. The reports will conclude with coverage of the 2014 Spring Game, being held at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, April 12th at Homer Bryce Stadium.
NACOGDOCHES, Texas – As the 2014 Stephen F. Austin spring practice schedule nears the finish line, the Lumberjacks are using the final few sessions to focus on the details of what it takes to win games.
For head coach Clint Conque, those details come in the effectiveness of how well the Lumberjacks execute both on special teams and the two-minute drill.
“You can’t stress how important special teams are,” said head coach Clint Conque. “A big play on special teams can re-energize the offense while allowing one can be a big blow and can cost you a game. This is something we need our players to take as seriously as they would their regular assignments.”
Thursday’s workout focused almost entirely on being able to move the ball down the field when it mattered most. It is something Conque is passionate about, and for good reason. The passion traces back to his 2009 Central Arkansas team when his Bears lost seven games by a combined 23 points, all of which came in the final two minutes of the game.
“Late in a game, its all about who can make that one play,” Conque emphasized. “For the offense, we need to make that one play that gets us into the endzone or sets us up for the field goal. For the defense, we need that one play that stops the other team from taking away our victory. All the hours, the work, the film – everything comes down to those eight to ten plays.”
Along with that has been a renewed emphasis on the need for strong special teams plays. With a lot of new faces on the SFA roster, a great amount of time has been spent trying to find out which players can fill the spots on the ever-increasing critical aspect of the game.
“The biggest thing we’ve tried to change is the emphasis and mindset on special teams,” said co-special teams coordinator Mike Walton. “We want to stress to them how important it is and that it’s not something to add an extra burden. We’ve made it competitive and there have been some good battles during the course of the spring. Just like on offense and defense, every drill we do is for a specific purpose and to make us better once the fall rolls around.”
One of the biggest holes the ‘Jacks have needed to address focuses around the return team, trying to find a replacement for graduating senior Mike Brooks who led the team in both kickoff and punt returns in 2013.
Wide receivers DJ Ward and Tyler Boyd have taken turns handling the return duties as Ward averaged nearly 18 yards on 11 returns in 2013. Running back Joshawa West also has some experience, returning 11 kicks for 200 yards last season.
But one area that hasn’t been much of a concern for the SFA coaching staff has been in the kicking game where the ‘Jacks return a pair of experienced veterans. Junior Nick Bruno returns after being named to the All-Southland Conference honorable mention team after averaging 39.27 yards per punt in 2013, the sixth-best average in school history.
Also returning for SFA is senior kicker Jordan Wiggs who is looking to cap his career on a high note. A three-time All-SLC selection, Wiggs recorded 100 points for SFA in 2013, pushing his career point total to 267 and sitting just 34 points shy of surpassing Chuck Rawlinson (1988-91) as the ‘Jacks all-time point leader.
Not that Wiggs was counting.
“I actually had no idea until my dad told me about it, “ Wiggs said. “It’s pretty awesome to think about and obviously a huge accomplishment should it happen to have my name in the record book. But my main goal is to make sure I do my job and come through when the team needs me. The points will come – I’m not worried about that. I just want to make sure I can put those points on the board when our team needs them.”
Wiggs has become the de facto leader among the SFA special teams units, a cohesive group comprised of himself, Bruno, junior Mason Juhl and redshirt freshman Brett Rattan. The quartet has worked extensively together with their new long snapper, redshirt freshman Kyle Romano, with Wiggs taking on the leadership role.
“It’s nice to have Nick, Mason and Brett coming back as we get along well together,” Wiggs said. “We’ve got a new long snapper and so our main focus has been making sure he has the focus and the confidence he needs coming into his first season and first game. That’s been our biggest goal during the spring.”
While often times overlooked, the SFA kicking unit should prove to be one of its greatest strengths heading into the 2014 season. And for the coaching staff, its one less thing to have to pore over hours of film to come up with a gameplan.
“It takes a lot of pressure off when you have players you can trust in key spots,” Walton said. “These guys have been in the heat of battle and have made some pressurized kicks, and you never realize how important they are until you don’t have them there. They get overlooked a lot, but hopefully they understand how important their roles are.”
2014 SFA Spring Practice Report/Schedule