BOGACZYK: Herd Special Teams Living Up to Their Name
The Word on the Herd-June 29, 2015
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Marshall football has no special teams coordinator, but the Herd coaching staff’s attention to detail among divided duties – and depth of talent – has made those units truly special in recent seasons.
It should be no different in 2015 said Todd Goebbel, the newest member of the Herd staff and the man who organizes special teams work for Coach Doc Holliday’s program.
Goebbel, 39, had been on the Marshall staff from 2005-09 – prior to Holliday’s hire – before returning in February. The Delaware, Ohio, native said he wasn’t surprised at Marshall’s success in developing special teams that contributed in several ways to a 23-5 record the past two seasons.
“I knew Coach Holliday and his staff make sure each position has competition, and there’s talent and that’s one thing – in coming back -- that didn’t shock me,” said Goebbel, who is the Herd’s tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator. “As we all know, (Holliday) has done a great job finding talent his entire career, and the staff he put together did a great job of recruiting. The positions are all strong, competitive, with a depth of talent.
“What struck me at first was just the quality, from the No. 1 guy to the No. 3 guy. Anytime you can develop competition at any position, it doesn’t matter how talented they are – they’re only going to get better. And that’s what they’ve done here and that’s what I was able to experience in spring ball, is to see the quality of depth.”
It’s rare for a team – even in Power Five conference programs, much less among the Group of Five teams, like the Herd – to have five scholarship players among kick-related units. That’s what the Herd had last season.
It’s still at five, even with the graduation of field goal/PAT man Justin Haig, whose four field goals propelled the Herd to a Conference USA Championship Game win, earning the Floridian the game MVP honor.
Also gone is top punt returner Tommy Shuler, a multiple record-setting slot receiver in his four Herd years. Otherwise, Marshall has a veteran special teams bunch, led by three seniors – All-Conference USA first team long snapper Matt Cincotta, punter Tyler Williams and star kick returner Deandre Reaves.
“Tyler’s had a great career, and as long as he’s consistent, we’re in good shape. Cincotta is unfortunately an overlooked entity, but a very solid figure for special teams. When you can go into any Saturday with a long snapper with his kind of experience – and he’s done it on the biggest stage – you feel good about it.”
So, did Goebbel change anything about the Herd’s units in spring practice?
“To be honest, there’s nothing I altered,” Goebbel said. “I’m a big believer that if isn’t broke, don’t try to fix it, and Coach Holliday and this staff have done a wonderful job of paying attention to special teams, making sure they’re solid, well-coached, great fundamentals.
“There’s no coordinator per se on staff. Each of us kind of has a hand in the success of the special teams, so we all are involved some fashion, some in charge of teams, some assisting teams … My job is just to make sure things are organized, efficient and maximize our time in special teams on the football field.”
“The biggest thing we’ve got to do going into fall is we have to find the right fit for Marshall football … just make sure the consistency aspect of all three phases of our special teams continue.”
Besides Williams – he returns for his fourth and final season as the Herd’s regular punter – Marshall has three scholarship kickers in redshirt sophomores Amoreto Curraj, Nick Smith and Kaare Vedvik.
“Tyler’s the returning punter, very talented, had some success, lots of experience,” Goebbel said. “In my regards, with punting, it’s about the consistency of every time you take the field, whether it’s hang time, operation time and ball placement by Tyler.
“We’re in a (field goal/PAT) kicking competition, as we speak, between Amoreto and Nick Smith,” Goebbel said. “Neither has really ever been under the lights. So you’ve got two young guys with a lot of talent, but they’ve never really been under the pressure.
“We tried to create as much of that as we could in the spring by the way we repped them, the way we set up practices. But as everyone knows, there’s nothing like game day. So, both of them are capable, and it will be a continued competition when fall camp begins and throughout camp.
“I think in one regard, if you have two kickers you believe in, you’re in good shape. Both have the ability and capability of being successful at the college level.”
Curraj returns after redshirting last season mostly due to a back injury. Vedvik took over kickoff duties, until his inconsistency opened the door for Smith to finish the season in the role.
“Our kickoffs are extremely important,” Goebbel said. “Amoreto is back and right now he’s our starting kickoff guy going into camp, with Kaare and Nick competing. All positions are competitions, but Amoreto definitely has a leg up in the kickoff department. He did it two years ago before his injury and he was one of the best in the country.”
When the Herd is at the other end of a kick – kickoff or punt return – Goebbel said he appreciates the production and likes the potential there. It starts with Reaves, whose 1,845 career kick return yards rank second nationally among returning FBS players to only the 2,339 by Autrey Golden of UTEP.
“Reaves is a gifted returner; he’s proven that on the biggest stage,” Goebbel said of the Herd veteran who had a 93-yard touchdown return to Marshall’s Boca Raton Bowl win last December. “He’s a young man who’s definitely a weapon back there every time he touches the football.
“He’ll continue to be back there, but the question we have to answer is who will be back there with him. I think we have some viable candidates -- Hyleck Foster, Antavis Rowe, Remi Watson. I think all are quality guys we can pair up with Reaves to make that a successful unit again this year.”
Goebbel said Marshall will start camp looking for its No. 1 punt return man. The candidates – when drills open Aug. 7 – will be three receivers.
“First and foremost, you want a dynamic guy back there, but you want the football,” Goebbel said. “You’d like to have your cake and eat it, too. First and foremost, you want a tough guy, a guy who’s fearless and will catch the ball and secure it and make sure the offense has it.
“And from there you evaluate the after-catch ability. Can he create one first down to two first downs for you? We worked Hyleck back there this spring. Reaves has done it and can do it. Rodney Allen has come out of spring with a natural ability to do both – kick and punt return.
“Once again, when you’re talking three and four guys at a returner position you know you’re in good shape, so that just speaks again to the quality of depth that’s there.”
With Cincotta entering his senior season, the Herd will work to develop the future with two incoming, walk-on backup snappers in 6-foot-4, 201-pound Kyle Varnell of Norcross, Ga., and 6-1, 230-pound Zach Wood of Cincinnati.
Goebbel said more development work will continue behind Williams, too.
“We kind of made a conscious effort this spring – with Tyler having only one season left as our punter – with Vedvik there,” Goebbel said. “Kaare has a ton of talent; he just has to find his niche. He can be a tremendous kickoff guy; consistency for him is the key. If he can be consistent, he has such a strong leg.
“And we’ve got to pretty much develop Kaare into a punter. He has the capabilities, and we’re working extremely hard on his fundamentals and consistency. And if he can become consistent, he can be a tremendous weapon moving forward.”
Goebbel said the Herd’s special teams approach won’t change in 2015.
“We need to make sure as we move forward, the base fundamentals of all aspects of our special teams -- not only the kicking, the kickers and specialists – are so fundamentally sound that they can be consistent week-to-week,” he said. “I think that’s been one of our biggest strengths … It’s about the consistency of the fundamentals, and that needs to continue.”