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Not-so-special teams getting better
At the end of Friday’s practice, YSU kicker Stephen Blose told special teams coach Louie Matsakis he’d just had his best day kicking off.
“I don’t know where that came from,” Blose said.
“I know where it came from,” said Matsakis, breaking into a wide grin. “From doing what I told you.”
Blose was the bright spot on some spotty special teams last fall, making all 27 extra points. But he was just 9 of 16 on field goals and wasn’t satisfied with his kickoffs.
“No one really has a perfect season,” said Blose, a senior from Erie, Pa. “There are some goals I set every season. I know kickoffs and field goals, lot of improvement needs to go on there.”
Blose, however, is expected to do more than kick well next fall. Matsakis will lean on him to aid in the finer points of the game, like knowing which way the winds blow (or swirl) in each stadium.
“With the exception of the FargoDome, I’ve never been in any of the stadiums in the conference,” said Matsakis, who hasn’t coached at the FCS level since 2003. “Being a senior, he’s able to give us some insight into the conference.
“He’s really taken a leadership role among all the specialists.”
On paper, the kicking game should be a strength this season, but there are plenty of question marks elsewhere on special teams, which were a weak point last fall.
To rectify that, new coach Eric Wolford has vowed to use starters on special teams, something that wasn’t embraced immediately by the players.
“The first couple days it was a little tough,” Matsakis said. “Then they started to realize the importance of it and now they’re excited.
“Guys are coming to the office wanting to come to the units and hopefully it pays off in the fall.”
All three starting linebackers are on all four special teams units (kickoff and kickoff returns, punts and punt returns). Starting tailback Jamaine Cook was returning punts in Friday’s practice, which focused mainly on special teams.
YSU had three punts blocked last fall, so that is an area of concern. In the Penguins’ first scrimmage last Saturday, Matsakis put his punters in the worst position possible — on the one-inch line with no punt returner. Oh, and it was just the second day they worked on punt protection.
Needless to say, it didn’t go well.
“I wanted to make it as hard as it could ever possibly be for the guy,” Matsakis said. “They came back and they were a little rattled but now they understand.”
Friday’s practice went much better and Matsakis feels a lot better about all his units than he did a few weeks ago.
“They’re improving,” he said. “We’re nowhere near where we need to be in the fall, but we’re much better than we were the first day.”
By Joe Scalzo