Cal Poly Football may have lost to No. 10 UC Davis Saturday night, but the Mustangs’ (2-5, 1-4 Big Sky) special teams are a bright spot in their season.
Football’s special teams consist of specific players that handle any kicking or punting plays, such as senior kicker Casey Sublette, who emerged last season as a consistent threat for the Mustangs. Depending on who you ask, special teams are either one of football’s most important aspects or football’s ugly and forgotten stepchild.
On one end, former University of Southern California coach and inductee to the College Football Hall of Fame John McKay once compared kickers to horse manure.
“They’re all over the place,” McKay said. On the other end, Pro Football Hall of Fame coach George Allen said”football is one-third offense, one-third defense and one-third special teams.”
However, special teams have been vital in Cal Poly Football’s recent victories. In both of the Mustangs’ victories this season, over Brown and Sacramento State, a player scored a touchdown off of either a punt return or a kickoff return.
Sophomore slotback Broc Mortensen scored off a 99-yard kickoff return against the Bears and junior wide receiver J.J. Koski ran a punt return 56 yards for a touchdown against the Hornets. This is the first time in five seasons that a Mustang has returned a kick or a punt for a touchdown. The last Mustang to score in this fashion was Alex Hubbard, who ran 94 yards against Northern Colorado in 2013. While it is uncommon for two of the Mustangs’ touchdowns to come this way, special teams coach Dan Ferrigno has not drastically changed his coaching to create these unique scenarios.
“We don’t change the scheme much week by week,” Ferrigno said. “But our techniques are getting better. That contributes as much as anything.”
The rarity of a touchdown coming off a kickoff or punt return requires a perfect storm among all the players on the field.
“Everyone’s doing their own assignment, cause I can only do so much, our line can only do so much,” Koski said. “If everyone does their part, big plays are gonna happen. It’s not up to me, it’s not up to this one guy, so as long as everyone does their part, [big plays] are gonna come.”
While special teams returning plays for touchdowns is still a rare occurrence, Ferrigno wants to continue this developing trend.
“[The returns for touchdowns are] consistent towards what we want,” Ferrigno said. “We want to keep building on this.”
The emotion that comes with scoring a touchdown off a punt or a kickoff is invigorating for the player and his teammates.
“Knowing that I have the ability to make good plays, I think that gives me confidence,” Koski said. “Knowing that I got guys downfield blocking that are gonna block for me on those big plays … it gives me [confidence], as well as our team, and I think that going forward with it, it’s gonna be good for our team.”