Position Preview: Special Teams

Aug. 28, 2017

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By: Christy Effendie
Athletics Communications Assistant

After the Aggies lost Colby Wadman to graduation last season, assistant coach Paul Creighton welcomed kicker Max O’Rourke and punter Daniel Whelan to the team this past spring. With the addition of this duo, who join returners Matt Blair and Grant Hilton this season, Creighton’s special teams kicking crew is now complete.

Blair enters his second season with the Aggies after posting solid numbers last year as a freshman. He finished 33 of 39 in PATs, hit 11 of 16 field goal attempts and earned valuable field experience in high-pressure situations.

O’Rourke joins Blair at the kicking position this season after spending time at Boise State and American River College. He was named a first team All-NorCal selection last year at ARC after finishing 9-for-13 in field goals and 36-for-42 in PATs for a total of 63 points. 

When asked, Creighton remained elusive though in dishing out roles for the season, but shared how competitive the battle between kickers has been throughout camp.

“This spot is wide open and guys are competing for it. We might play one guy and he might do everything, or we might have each guy do different things.”

The only true freshman to join the group, punter Daniel Whelan made national headlines in 2016 after MaxPreps posted a video of the (then) high school senior connecting on a 72-yard field goal attempt in practice. The two-year varsity starter averaged 43.8 yards per punt as a senior, with 22 (of 37 total) buried inside the 20, which led to All-Southern Section, All-DeAnza League and special teams MVP nods.

However, all three have big shoes to fill.

Previous kicker Brady Stuart (2012-15), in his final game as an Aggie became the school’s all-time leading scorer with 274 points. Wadman, a three-time All-Big Sky Honorable Mention punter, finished eighth in the nation last season with his 43.2-yard average.

But to their aid, the younger guys will be taking snaps from four-year starter Grant Hilton, a special teams staple.

"He’s really taken on a leadership role with the kickers. I’ve got a guy that is a senior and is a stud. He snapped for Colby and Brady, and knows how specialists work," Creighton said. 

Creighton mentioned the key to his group’s success this season will come from their ability to detach themselves from results, both positive and negative – one of head coach Dan Hawkins’ favorite talking points.

"Anytime a specialist steps onto the field it’s a high-pressure situation. If a receiver catches 95 percent of the balls that are thrown to them, they have great hands, right? However, if a punter catches 95 pct. of the balls that are snapped to him, it’s a disaster. He needs to be 100 pct," Creighton explained.

"They must detach from the results in order to block out the pressure, and expectation, and just focus on the process."