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2016 Special Teams MVP – the Case for Joey Julius

A kicker who’s a tackler, and who can make and take massive hits? Yes, please. 

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Penn State Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Two solo tackles and one assist. A sturdy kid who’s 5’10” and 258 lbs. Brings hits big enough to level cornerbacks at Michigan. No, we’re not talking about a defensive player, we’re talking about Penn State kicker and kickoff specialist Joey “Big Toe” Julius.

He doesn’t look like your normal kicker and his path to Penn State certainly wasn’t the normal path most kickers follow.

From Soccer Standout to Kicking Expert
Julius was a stand out soccer player who made the switch to football in high school. At Lower Dauphin, Julius lettered four times as a kicker and punter, making all-state selections as a kicker twice, and earning a spot on the USA Today All Pennsylvania Team. He finished high school with a total of 189 points, hitting 93 out of 96 conversions and 32 of 49 field goal attempts. He boasted a career long 54 yard field goal, and in 187 kickoffs saw 141 going for touchbacks.

Bypassing a full college scholarship to play Division I soccer at Southern Illinois-Edwardsville, Julius as a junior decided instead to focus on college football. His sights were set on Penn State, and he committed in February 2014 as a walk on.

Walk On with Accuracy and Strength
After redshirting in 2014, Joey began 2015 as the starting kicker, handling kickoff and extra point / field goal duties and playing in 11 games. Later in the season, Joey lost some of his stride and the starting job, with Tyler Davis taking over extra points and field goal kicks.

Still, Julius ended the 2015 season named to the All-Freshman team, and making 10 of 12 field goals for an 83.3% field goal percentage, putting him at the lead for the Big Ten and No. 21 nationally. He claimed a long of 40 yards, and hit 20 of 24 extra points, and scored a total of 50 points for the year. Julius hit 53 kickoffs, averaging 62 yards with 22 touchbacks.

Kickoff Specialist and Defensive Tackle
In 2016 Julius returned as the Nittany Lions’ kickoff specialist but with some additional duties: defensive tackling. Julius would easily handle kickoffs, then barrel downfield at full speed, for the most part, keeping up with Penn State’s nimble defensive players, and tackling as well as any linebacker.

Case in point: this hit that leveled Kent State’s receiver and punt returner Kavious Price:

What did Price have to say about that? “You don't think of a kicker making the tackle, for the most part. And having a 250-some-pound kicker, that makes it even worse, I guess."

Counterpoint: this hit where Julius pancaked Michigan 5’10” 170 lb cornerback Jourdan Lewis … and scared Michigan linebacker and Heisman candidate Jabrill Peppers so much that he jumped aside to avoid getting destroyed by A KICKER:

Jourdan Lewis had high praise for Julius. “Never been hit by a kicker. Never been caught by a kicker, actually. He took his shot and made it.”

At the end of the 2016 season, Julius boasted 93 kickoffs, 5,773 yards, an average of 62.10 yards per kickoff and a 48.39% touchback percentage. Add another stat to the list: he landed 2 solo tackles and 1 assist in the 2016 season.

Toughness and Grit On and Off the Field
Julius proved he could take it as well as dish it out, after taking hard hits two games in a row that earned ejections for his opponents, with a late hit after the whistle by Minnesota LB Jaylen Waters and another late hit a week later by Maryland’s Isaiah Davis.

Somehow, Julius got up, walked off on his own and was later on the sidelines talking and smiling with teammates.

An even more gutsy move was when Julius went public with a very personal battle: that he’d been fighting an 11 year binge eating disorder.

After a long consideration of not only myself, my family, and my team I have decided to go public about my absence from...

Posted by Joey Julius on Sunday, October 2, 2016

In 2015, Julius had become severely depressed, hiding his rapidly debilitating eating disorder. He’d eat small meals in front of the team then go back to his room and binge eat to the point of being physically ill and in severe pain. Julius eventually broke down and spoke to the staff, who he credits with finding him the treatment he needed to get back healthy for the 2016 season.

It’s clear to see that Joey Julius’ most important and toughest accomplishment in 2016 wasn’t on the field, and we couldn’t be prouder. We can’t wait to see more from him in 2017.