For the second consecutive year, I have been tasked with writing about the positives of Penn State’s special teams. At first glance, this might be a difficult endeavor given that the kicker, punter, and long snapper all have graduated, but as Rafiki tells Simba in The Lion King, “Look harder.”
COMPETITION BREEDS SUCCESS
While Penn State enters 2023 without a starting kicker or punter, there are battles at both spots to fill those voids. Each position has both transfers (Columbia’s Alex Fellows at kicker, and FAU’s Riley Thompson at punter) and young players who already seen the field for Penn State (Sander Sahaydak hit one of his two field goals last year, while Gabe Nwosu and Alex Bacchetta have combined for six punts). Although none of these players have a proven track record of success at Penn State, competing for a starting gig in the Big Ten is a crucible in itself, and Penn State’s new kicker and punter will certainly come out of fall camp better players.
GAMEBREAKING RETURN GAME
I remember several years in the 2000’s where Penn State struggled to put even one explosive return man on the field. Despite losing Parker Washington as their primary punt returner, the Nittany Lions are blessed with several candidates to return both punts and kicks in 2023. Both Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen received kicks last season, with Singleton showing why he was a highly-regarded running back recruit:
Even if James Franklin would rather allow some of his other athletes to get a chance in the open field, possibilities abound. Wide receivers Omari Evans and Kaden Saunders, and defensive backs Daequan Hardy and Elliott Washington all have been mentioned as possible contenders for both kick and punt run-backs. Isn’t it great to have so many solid options?
In 2022, the Unsung Hero Coach Award would’ve gone to Stacy Collins. The veteran coordinator led a squad that saw Penn State finish fourth in return yards per kick, Chris Stoll win the Patrick Mannelly award for long-snapper of the year, and Singleton earn second-team All-Big Ten performance as a return man. Kickoff coverage was more than solid, as opposing teams averaged less than 20 yards a return. It is refreshing to see the athleticism and fire on display with both coverage teams. Fans should have full faith in Collins’ ability to find replacements for Jake Pinnegar, Barney Amor, and Stoll, and should look forward to an excellent special teams unit in 2023.