Special teams comes with special requirements, and the punters and kickers embrace their important roles as specialists.
Although not the most prominent figures on a team, punters and kickers play arguable one of the most important roles throughout a season. If an offense doesn’t execute, it’s their job to get the ball down the field farther than the quarterback, wide receivers and running backs could. If the offense does execute, it’s on them to send the ball down the field so the opposing offense has a long drive ahead.
Think about it: if Clemson kicker Alex Spence didn’t miss on two field goal attempts against Syracuse this past season, suddenly the defending national champions and number two team in the nation at the time walk away with the win and Syracuse fans never storm the field in celebration of a 27-24 underdog victory.
With that said, here is a preview of the 2018 SU punting/kicking unit:
Star of the Group: Sterling Hofrichter
If you’ve been following Syracuse football at all over the past year, you know the name Sterling Hofrichter. Hofrichter has made himself a keystone player as the punter for the Orange on a special teams unit that ranked first in the ACC and 10th nationally in net punting average (41.3 yards/punt). Of his 57 punts this past year, 10 were for more than 50 yards, 20 landed within the 20 yard line, four went for touchbacks (good enough to be third in the conference in touchback percentage at 7.0) and only nine were returned. The special teams captain also split the uprights on two of three field goal attempts in 2017. Hofrichter has been excellent since the start of his freshman year, and the success looks to continue in his redshirt junior season with SU.
Something to Prove: Nolan Cooney
Of all the other punters and kickers on the roster, only one is not either a true or redshirt freshman. That man is Nolan Cooney. Cooney will be a redshirt sophomore this season, primely positioning himself as the reserve punter and placekicker behind Hofrichter. He redshirted his first season in 2016 and did not play in any games in 2017, so he has not had the chance to show off his talents in true game action yet. After high school, Cooney spent time at prep school and advanced his game, earning himself Division I looks. This said, Cooney’s potential is obviously there; however, he currently finds himself in a three-way contest with two freshmen for kickoff responsibilities this fall. He needs to prove that his extra schooling and time purposely taken off to wait for his opportunity were worth it and earn his first of many opportunities right now before others overtake him.
Unit Strength: Sterling Hofrichter is Primed for Another Star Season
We’ve already recapped why Hofrichter is the star, and there is absolutely no indication that he is going to be anything short of excellent once again this season. He’s only gotten better from his first to second year playing (bringing a 42.7 yards/punt average in 2016 to 43.2 yards/punt in 2017), and in all other ways, he has stayed consistent. The biggest difference from 2016 to 2017 was that he had 20 fewer punt attempts, but that is something more to say about how the Orange offense was performing from year to year. As long as Hofrichter is on the field, Syracuse is in fine hands. Enough said.
Unit Weakness: SU Lacks Depth… and a Placekicker
Hofrichter is amazing, but if something—anything—happens to him, SU will be lost. Cole Murphy, Syracuse’s star placekicker, has graduated and moved on from the Orange, and so the SU P/K unit suddenly looks like a one man band. Nolan Cooney, Cory Smigel and Andre Szmyt are all currently in a three-way battle to handle the team’s kickoff duties this season, and no matter who earns the job, he will be new to playing on the college field. With Hofrichter healthy, the unit will get by as gold; without him, the unit definitely won’t even be sterling silver.
The Syracuse P/K unit should be sturdy once again. The loss of Cole Murphy is a big blow, but Sterling Hofrichter should be able to more-than-successfully handle double-duty as the primary punter and placekicker in his redshirt junior campaign. Either Nolan Cooney, Cory Smigel or Andre Szmyt will handle most or all of the team’s kickoff responsibilities this year, and whoever does could position himself as the Orange’s next rising P/K star.
Be sure to keep it locked here at orangefizz.net and on Twitter @OrangeFizz to keep up with all of our positional previews. Check out our other positional previews with the 2018 season right around the corner:
SPECIAL TEAMS: Punter/Kicker | Return Specialists (8/24)
Published: David Edelstein