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Thursday, September 30, 1999
Houston, Texas
Volume 65, Issue 28

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Special teams adds unique dimension to UH football

Sports Opinion
By Tom Carpenter 

For me, the most exciting part of a football game is watching the play of the madmen that make up the special teams.

There's just something about watching those guys hurl themselves into the thick of the fray without regard to their bodies that leaves me amazed.


The UH football special teams is one of the best in Conference USA.

Henri Chen/The Daily Cougar

Cougar special teams coach Chad O'Shea credits his players with having a "different attitude" than the rest of the football team.

"We have to have a sense of urgency when we take the field," O'Shea said. "We get one snap and no second chance."

Special teams comprised the kickoff of squad, the field goal unit, the punting team and the kickoff and punt return teams.

The Cougars use many of their first-string players, primarily from defense, to play on special teams. 

Because defensive players have a "search and destroy" mentality anyway, this guarantees a headhunter attitude when special teams takes the field on kick coverage.

"At Houston we take special teams very seriously and believe it should give us the winning edge," O'Shea said. "We put our best players on the field."

Special teams gets about 25 snaps per game. The players approach their roles with all the finesse of a sledge hammer hitting an anvil. On the other hand, they strike with all the raw power of a sledge hammer hitting an anvil.

The punt and kickoff coverage teams sprint down the field and launch themselves like cruise missiles at the opposing team's ball carriers.

They hurl themselves with wild abandon to break the opposing team's wedge and open a path for their teammates to apply bone crunching tackles on the ball carrier.

"They give up their bodies because they know how important each play is for their team to win the football game," O'Shea said.

Cougar special teams players are taught to go for the ball and try to create turnovers with the hope of coming up with a big play to create more opportunities for the offense to score. 

"Special teams (has) a tremendous impact on the game," O'Shea explained. "It's up to us to create good field position for the offense and defense."

The field goal unit practices twice a day to establish the precise timing needed for long snapper Jeff Medford, the Cougars' starting center, to get the ball to holder Tyson Helton.

Helton has to place the ball down on the turf flawlessly so field goal kicker Mike Clark can blast the ball through the uprights.

All that takes place in less than 1.5 seconds behind the first string offensive line.

When it's done right, it looks easy, but with a ton of bruising linemen charging at you, a million things can go wrong, including having the kick rammed back down your throat.

Houston has one of the best kickoff men in the country. Clark booms the ball into the end zone, preventing most opposing teams from returning the kick and planting their offense at their own 20 yard line.

Ketric Sanford leads Conference USA in returning kickoffs and brings his own brand of excitement to the game, a la his 65-yard return against Alabama that brought Cougar fans to their feet.

The Cougars rank No. 1 in the conference on kickoff returns.

The Cougars' long snapper on punts is Mike Zajac. His job is to get the ball to punter Jeff Patterson on a rope so Patterson has time to get the punt away.

Punt time is always a moment in the game when you hold your breath, hoping that the blocking holds, the snap is sure and the kick gets away. 

If there is a breakdown in any of these areas, it's an easy touchdown for the defense, but it provides lots of excitement for the fans.

The timing, precision and execution of special teams play is what makes this facet of the game so unique.

"That's why they call it 'special teams,'" O'Shea said. "It takes a special person to play on those teams."

The devil-may-care attitude of the special teams players, their willingness to sacrifice their bodies for their teammates, brings an excitement to the game that is unparalleled on the football field.

Offense dominates, defense wins games, but it's the special teams' play that makes the games so exciting and enjoyable to me.
 

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