With fifth-year senior Damon Duval returning to handle the kicking and punting duties, that phase of the kicking game should be in good shape. Duval earned All-America honors as a kicker and was All-SEC as a punter. Duval has so much talent that Tuberville insists that the 6-1, 187-pounder can play significantly better than he did last fall when he was a finalist for the Lou Groza and Ray Guy awards that go annually to the nation's top kicker and punter.
"He is possibly one of the best ever to play here at Auburn," Tuberville says. "There have been some great punters and kickers at Auburn. Damon had a great first half of the season last year and then had a very average second half of the season. If he can stay away from that second half of the season and put a great one together, he will definitely be one of the best ever to come through here.
"Damon has meant so much to this team and is going to mean just as much more this year because of the young offense," Tuberville adds. "If he can make those field goals like he did last year, it is really going to put us into a situation where we can win, I think--win a lot of games."
Duval signals "good" on last season's game-winning field goal vs. Mississippi State.
The Tigers have a former Parade All-American field goal kicker waiting in reserve if Duval should lose his touch. Phillip Yost will be a redshirt sophomore this fall. He saw very limited duty last year as a kickoff man, but should be ready if needed.
"Phillip Yost had a great spring and really improved his technique," Tuberville says. "And, I think that he will have a chance to the backup punter. We are bringing in a punter from high school and we will give him a chance to punt, but hopefully we will redshirt Michael Gibson."
Gibson is a two-time All-State selection and like Duval, he was more than just a kicker in high school. Even though he only played football two years, he took over as Mooreville High's (Miss.) quarterback for the last half of the season and led the team to the state playoffs. He also earned All-State honors as a junior and senior on back-to-back baseball state championship teams.
Tuberville and his staff have been working on the recruiting front since they arrived on the Auburn campus to improve the depth across the board and add more speed to the roster. This should be their deepest and most athletic Auburn team to date. Tuberville says he is hoping that will show up with more big plays on special teams.
"We will have a lot of speed and depth because of the linebackers and defensive backs that we have and can use on all of our coverage teams," he says. "We should be better at most every position in that area. And we have Michael Lindsey and Jeremy Wells both back as our deep snappers so it looks pretty good on special teams." Lindsey, a 6-4, 263 senior from Atlanta, is the No. 1 punt snapper and backs up Wells on field goal and extra point snaps. Wells is a 6-1, 240-pound junior walk-on from UMS-Wright in Mobile.
Wells will be snapping on field goals to holder Justin Fetsko, a walk-on split end who is holding for a third consecutive season.
Almost all of the special teams practice time in the spring was spent on field goals and punts. When two-a-days get cranked up in August, the Tigers will sort out who will be the kickoff and punt return men and who will join them on the return teams.
Last season, Roderick Hood and Joe Walkins each returned 15 punts. Walkins began the season as the starter but lost the job because he had some problems catching the football in practice and in a game. Walkins averaged 11.1 yards per return and Hood 10.3 yards. Another player that Tuberville mentions as a possibility is senior wide receiver Marcel Willis, who has shown very sure hands fielding punts in practice. However, Willis struggled last season with an ankle injury that slowed him through all 12 games and he did not have a punt return.
Two newcomers to keep an eye on are Montae Pitts from Loachapoka and Ben Obomanu from Selma, Tuberville tells Inside the Auburn Tigers. "We are also going to look at those guys and see what they can do on kickoffs," the head coach adds. Pitts has been working out on campus with his future teammates since graduating high school, except for taking a break for the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star week. Obomanu waited until after the all-star game to come to campus to begin his workouts.
Tim Carter averaged 23.9 yards per kickoff return last fall as a senior on 13 attempts. Hood ran back 18 balls for 17.9 yards per return and freshman Carnell Williams, who is expected to see only tailback duties this season, returned eight kicks for a 23.8 average.
Tiger Ticket Extra: Since Joe Pannunzio left the staff three seasons ago to become head coach at Murray State, running backs coach Eddie Gran has been in charge of special teams. Gran says a point of emphasis this fall will be to use Duval as a weapon when he punts the ball by trying to pin opponents deep in their own territory. Duval has been working on coffin corner punting and kicking the high punt that lands around the 10-yard line. That is an area that the Tigers can definitely improve on this year. Gran says that he will challenge Duval to be consistent and if that happens special teams should be a major strength for the Tigers in 2002....Duval was a Walter Camp and American Football Coaches Association first team All-America pick as field goal kicker last year. He hit 16-26 including game-winners vs. Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Florida. Duval was 1-1 on field goals under 20 yards, 1-4 from 20-29 yards, 8-9 from 30-39 yards, 5-8 from 40-49 yards and 1-4 from 50 yards are longer. His 51-yarder vs. Ball State was his longest as a collegian. In practice, Duval has kicked 65-yarders with room to spare...As a junior Duval punted 51 times for a 44.0 average. He averaged 43.2 on 65 punts as a sophomore and 42.9 on 57 punts as a redshirt freshman...Duval's best field goal season on a percentage basis was 2000 when he hit 14-18 tries. He was 9-15 in 1999. Duval goes into his final season a perfect 85-85 on points after touchdowns...The school record for best field goal percentage in a season is .867 by Matt Hawkins in 1995 when he made 13-15. Win Lyle, who stopped by preseason practice last year to watch Duval kick, is No. 2 at .842...Duval, who has made 39 career field goals, is six shy of the school record set by Lyle from 1987-80. Al Del Greco (1980-83) is in second place with 42...Duval has scored 202 career points on field goal and extra points, which is third behind Del Greco (236) and Lyle (230)...Duval is also going to leave his mark on the all-time AU punting statistics. His 44.0 average as a junior is the fifth best in a single season behind Terry Daniel (46.2 in 1993), Lewis Colbert (45.79 in 1985), Daniel (44.49 in 1994) and Brian Shulman (44.10 in 1986). Duval's 43.25 average in 2000 is sixth on the all-time list and his 42.86 in 1999 is the eighth highest average...Duval is tied with Daniel for the third longest punt in AU history with a 71-yarder vs. Northern Illinois last September. Rufus Deal holds the record with an 87-yarder set vs. Georgia Tech in 1939. Colbert boomed a 77-yarder vs. Southwestern Louisiana in 1985.