Position-by-Position Breakdowns: Special teams
Published: Friday, August 30, 2013
Updated: Friday, August 30, 2013 00:08
The football team’s special teams unit took the field with 23 seconds left and a scoreboard that read 24-24. The defense had just surrendered the Bulls’ 24-17 lead, and the crowd at UB Stadium was filled with thoughts of overtime.
That was before sophomore running back Devin Campbell returned the ensuing kickoff 47 yards and junior kicker Patrick Clarke booted a 47-yard field goal as time expired to give the Bulls a 27-24 victory.
That win illustrated the importance of the special teams unit.
Clarke pieced together what many would consider a successful season: 11 for 15 on field goal attempts (four of which came from 40 yards or farther), 13 touchbacks on kickoffs and, of course, one game-winning kick.
“I took last season and looked to build upon it,” Clarke said. “I’ve been kicking a lot and lifting weights a lot and just focusing on the technique side of things.”
Clarke’s role could increase this year as the offense is expected to make more visits to the opposition’s side of the field than in past years.
“I just got to do my job; that’s how I look at it,” Clarke said. “Other players’ roles might be a little bit different, but I just have to do my job and they have to do their job.”
While junior kicker Patrick Clarke provided a steady leg for the offense, the team turned to freshman Tyler Grassman as the offense’s drives came to a halt.
Grassman came into UB ranked as the 33rd best kicking prospect in the country, according to ESPN, but his freshman campaign didn’t deliver the promise of his resume. On 80 punts, Grassman averaged 35.4 yards per kick. But he has looked to be one of the most improved players in fall camp, constantly booming punts down the field.
“Last year, I didn’t have the year I wanted to have,” Grassman said. “I’ve learned a lot from it and grown a lot. Field position is everything, and that’s my job as a punter is to put my defense in the right position so they can make plays.”
This past spring, the Bulls brought in his cousin, freshman Corbin Grassman. Last fall, Corbin completed his senior year as a first-team all-state honoree in Ohio as a linebacker. The Bulls, however, recruited him as the team’s long snapper. The presence of a family member in the locker room has made Grassman more comfortable.
“[Corbin] is a great long snapper and a great short snapper, and he’s going to do big things while he’s here and I’m excited to be a part of it,” Grassman said. “It makes my job a lot easier to have someone who I know is consistent and confident in what he does.”
Grassman is setting a high bar for himself as he enters his sophomore year.
“I want to finish at the top of the MAC with a great average,” he said.