Cal brings dangerous fleet of returners to special teams, including Demetris Robertson, Melquise Stovall and Khalfani Muhammad

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Sonny Dykes has high praise for punter Dylan Klumph, and says that two dynamic freshmen will "certainly" see time in the return game.

Countdown to Kickoff



Bay Area Media Day: Inside the Locker Room With Injury Updates and More (Members)

Personnel losses: This will be the first year since 2011 that California will not have Cole Leininger as a starting punter. Leininger was a 2013 All-Pac-12 selection (averaging 42.9 yards per punt, the eighth-best mark in program history), and in four years, posted a career 41.1 yards per punt average that ranked just percentage points outside Cal’s career top 10. He was a member of the watch list for the Ray Guy Award as a sophomore and a junior, and was an honorable mention Pac-12 All-Academic selection in each of his final three campaigns. As a senior, Leininger averaged 41.2 yards on his 37 punts, with a long of 60, with 21 fair catches and 12 punts inside the 20. He also booted five drives of over 50 yards. 

Leininger played in 48 of 49 possible games at Cal, helping the Golden Bears set an all-time record for the least punts returned by an opponent twice, first with seven during his 2014 junior season and then bettering that with six as a 2015 senior.

Also gone is return man Trevor Davis, drafted by th Green Bay Packers in the fifth round of the NFL Draft. In his career, Davis returned 14 punts for an average of 8.2 yards, and returned 45 kicks for an average of 24.7 yards, with two touchdowns -- both against Washington State in 2014.

Projected starters:

Kickoff: RSr. Noah Beito
Next Up:
RJr. Matt Anderson
-- or RSr. Franklyn Cervenka

Beito has played in four games off the bench in his time at Cal, hitting both of his extra-point tries and kicking off six times for 354 yards (59.0 average) and punting twice for 36 yards. He's probably the most versatile leg on the roster, and made a 42-yard field goal in the spring game -- the only field goal attempted in the game. Against Grambling State last season, he kicked off five times for 290 yards, including a career-long 65-yarder. Anderson kicked off 86 times last year, averaging 56.0 yards per attempt, with 15 touchbacks. 

"We'll still have competition," said head coach Sonny Dykes. "We need to get our kickoffs solved. We've got to be able to consistently kick the ball in the end zone. That's something we've got to improve. Our touchback rate last year was right around 20 percent, and it needs to be much higher than that."

Cal was 118th in the nation in kickoff yardage return defense last season, with 18 touchbacks (87th) on 60 kickoffs, with three out of bounds.

Place Kicker: RJr. Matt Anderson
Next Up:
RSr. Noah Beito
RSr. Franklyn Cervenka
FR Gabe Siemieniec

Anderson started all 13 games last season, his first as the starter, and led the team in scoring with 104 points to tie for the third-most in school history, making 18-of-21 field goal attempts to rank tied for third in the Pac-12 and tied for 10th nationally in field goal percentage (85.7%) adding 50-of-52 PAT tries. Anderson finished the season by making each of his last 10 field goal attempts and 15 of his final 16. Anderson was 10-for-10 on field goals inside of 30 yards, 5-of-6 between 30 and 39 yards and 3-of-5 from 40 yards or more. He has a career-long of 48 yards, hit at Oregon last season.

"Matt had a good year, last year," said Dykes. "I got to the point where, when Matt went out to go kick a field goal, we had complete confidence in his ability to make it. That's a good thing to have, as a head football coach, to be able to send a young kicker out that you believe in, and he's just got to build on what he did last year. His confidence is higher than it's been, which is really important for that position."

Punter: RSo. Dylan Klumph
Next Up:
RSr. Noah Beito
RSr. Harry Adolphus

Klumph didn't punt at all last year, but his leg talent is off the charts. His biggest issue was consistency, but in the spring, he improved by leaps and bounds both in that department, as well as in hangtime and directional accuracy.

"Dylan has tremendous talent," said Dykes. "He has a lot of upside. He's got a huge leg, just has to be a little more consistent. There were times this spring where he reminded us of Ryan Allen, who we had at Louisiana Tech, who won two Ray Guy Awards, and punts with the Patriots now. Dylan's got that kind of talent. It's just a matter of becoming more consistent. We think he can step in pretty well and be one of the better punters in the league, if he continues to develop and grow."

Adolphus, a rugby fly-half, will provide another look, when the Bears want to go with the rugby-style kick. Given his rugby background, he's also a threat to run the ball on fakes, as he did once last season. Adolphus has three punts to his name, with an average of 49.3, helped by the bounce-and-roll that he gets from coming around the side.

Snapper: RSr. Bradley Northnagel
Next Up: RFr. Grant Gluhaich

Snappers are at their best when you don't notice them, and Northnagel was invisible last year, playing in all 13 games with nary a bad snap. Northnagel has played in 17 games in the last two years. He redshirted, and then did not play as a redshirt freshman, when he worked on both the offensive and defensive lines. As a redshirt sophomore, he was the backup to John Sheperdson.

Holder:  RSo. Dylan Klumph
Next Up:
RSo. Chase Forrest
RSr. Patrick Worstell

Leininger was by far the best holder on the roster according to the kickers, so Klumph has a lot to live up to. It's a position that, again, is best when it's invisible, and having a fellow kicker or punter in that spot has proven to be the best option, though Forrest and Worstell have both proven adept, as well.

Punt Return: RSo. Vic Wharton
Next Up:
RFr. Jaylinn Hawkins
RFr. Brandon Singleton
FR Kanawai Noa

As a team, Cal had just 14 total punt returns in 2015, averaging 5.9 yards -- 99th in the nation.

The speedy Wharton ran a 4.38 40 in high school, and he's going to provide a dynamic presence on punt return, where the Bears have been trying to find a true big-play threat for several seasons. In high school, Wharton piled up 1,207 kick return yards and 521 punt return yards, scoring 11 touchdowns on special teams. As a true freshman at Tennessee in 2014, he caught a 49-yard touchdown in the TaxSlayer Bowl. Now healthy after hip surgery, Wharton will be one to watch in fall camp. If he can add some shakes to that speed, he's going to be dangerous, and based on what we saw in the spring game, those shakes are there.

"Vic Wharton's been an excellent return guy in the past, and certainly was as a high school player," Dykes said. "We've got a lot of different options in our return game."

Noa returned four punts for 15 yards last season, and is the only true returner at the position. Singleton redshirted last season, but we've seen both in spring and fall that he has big-play potential both as a receiver and as a return man.

It's not out of the realm of possibility that we see Melquise Stovall and Demetris Robertson take a crack at this spot, too. In fact, Dykes said we will "certainly" see both of them on returns.

Inside receiver Ray Hudson spoke about both during the Bay Area Media Day on Thursday. Yes, it was in a receiving capacity, but the speed and explosiveness that both of them bring can't be understated.

"You can't say enough about Stovall," Hudson said. "You all saw in the spring. He's a shifty guy, he's a guy you want to block for. That's huge. You've got to have the guy that's shifty. If you block a guy the wrong way, he's going to find some way to get off of it. He makes us look great, which is huge."

Robertson ran back a pair of kickoffs in the U.S. Army All-American game for 84 yards, including a 60-yarder.

"[Wednesday], I went in to watch film around 6 p.m., and I walked in to the room that I love so much, a private room to watch film in, and I look in there, and he's in there," Hudson said of Robertson. "I was like, 'Ah, come on.' So, I go in there, and I start watching film, and he's learning the plays he wants to have. I asked him about it. I said, 'You're watching film and no one else is in here. What are you doing?' He said, 'I don't want to have to think about the route before. I don't want to question if I know what route it is. I want to have the confidence to play, so I can be me and do what I want, and I can have that ability to run confidently and not question every step.' That's huge. That's a big aspect of the game. We don't really see that out of freshmen, or guys who are coming in, new."

Kickoff Return:
JR Tre Watson
-- and SR Khalfani Muhammad

Next Up:
FR Melquise Stovall
-- and RFr. Jaylinn Hawkins

The Bears were 74th last season in kickoff return average (20.74), and they'll be without Davis, who accounted for 32 of Cal's 43 kickoff returns (21.4 ypr). Noa took back four, averaging 23.5 yards, while Muhammad had three (17.3 ypr) and Watson, two (22.0 ypr). As a sprinter, Muhammad has the straight line speed to get a head of steam, and having both him and Watson back to return -- especially given the fact that both have improved on their lateral movement -- could be an asset. With Vic EnwereBilly McCrary III and Patrick Laird able to spell those two if they're gassed after a big return, that mitigates at least some of the concerns about putting two of the top three backs out on special teams at the same time.

As a freshman in 2014, Watson turned in a team-high 20 kick returns, for 407 yards, and was the primary kick returner during the second half of the season.

Muhammad has 63 kickoff returns (more than any other active player on the roster) and 1,347 return yards, and ranks second on the Bears' all-time list in both of those categories. He set single-season school records with 46 returns and 1,006 kick return yards as a freshman in 2013.

Stovall scored touchdowns five different ways as a senior in 2015 (interception return, kick return, punt return, rushing, receiving), and tallied 24 kick returns for 581 yards to go along with 35 punt returns for 435 yards and three touchdowns in his freshman, junior and senior seasons at Lancaster (Calif.) Paraclete (no stats available from 2013). In the U.S. Army All-American game, Stovall ripped off a weaving 54-yard kickoff return against some of the nation's best in San Antonio.

Hawkins is the unknown. At Buena Park (Calif.), he returned 15 career punts for 346 yards and a 23.1 yards per punt return average. As a senior for the Coyotes, he had three punt returns for a total of 68 yards, but did not have a single kickoff return. 

"The good thing is, we've got a lot of guys that can make plays with the ball in their hands," Dykes said. "You look at Khalfani, and he's been a good return guy for us. Obviously, you've got Melquise, who everybody saw this spring. He has the opportunity to do some pretty special things with the ball in his hands."

null Top Stories