With the FAU offense scoring at a record pace, all head coach Lane Kiffin needed from his special teams unit was competency.
Luckily for Kiffin and special teams coach Corey Batoon, the unit was more than competent for the Owls. Kicker Greg Joseph set a program record for the longest field goal (54 yards), punter Ryan Rickel excelled at starting opposing offenses close to their own end zone, and returners Kerrith Whyte and Jalen Young (each Seminole Ridge graduates) often gave FAU’s dangerous offense great field position.
In a Nov. 11 win at Louisiana Tech, Whyte became the first Owl in program history to return a kickoff for a touchdown, going 98 yards early in the third quarter to drain any momentum the Bulldogs had left.
Let’s end our 2017 positional reviews by looking back at FAU’s special teams performance:
MVP: Rickel didn’t have many opportunities to punt — after 16 punts in the Owls’ first two games, Rickel had 30 in the team’s final 11, an average of 2.5 per game — and Joseph struggled mightily down the stretch, so Whyte is the winner. Returning far fewer kickoffs this season because FAU’s improved defense gave up far fewer touchdowns, Whyte’s kickoff return against Louisiana Tech was a play etched in program history and one of the year’s more explosive.
Biggest surprise: Joseph’s inconsistency in the season’s final weeks. Though Joseph’s 71.4 field-goal percentage tied a career-high, the former walk-on made only five of his ten field-goal attempts and missed three extra points once the calendar turned to November. In September and October, Joseph made 10-of-11 field goals and missed only one extra point. FAU’s potent offense allowed Joseph’s struggles to be overlooked.
Who’s returning? Whyte and Young will each return next year to likely return kickoffs and punts respectively. Rising sophomore kicker Vladimir Rivas will compete for the starting kicker job.
Who’s leaving? Joseph and Rickel each have exhausted all years of eligibility. Key kick return blocker and fifth-year senior running back Marcus Clark has graduated.
Who’s arriving? Taylor Crabtree, who previously kicked at East Mississippi and was a 2016 teammate of quarterback De’Andre Johnson and defensive end Tim Bonner, will attend fall camp as a preferred walk-on.
Biggest offseason story line: There aren’t many story lines with the special teams as a fair number of contributors are either walk-ons or emerge in camp, meaning a third kicker could easily enter the Rivas-Crabtree competition. Though FAU returns many of their more explosive offensive weapons for next year, whoever wins the kicking job needs to be more efficient than Joseph was in 2017.