Gators' specialists headed for awards

Despite an uninspiring start, the #18 ranked Florida Gators are not short of players lighting up the leaderboards of numerous statistical categories. Unsurprisingly, both primary special teams’ athletes are keeping an eye on their places near the top of said lists as they make major contributions to this year’s team.

 With the entrance that first-year kicker Eddy Pineiro made earlier this year, Gator fans would likely not be shocked that the Miami native has continued to make noise. After spurning his commitment with Alabama in favor of the Orange and Blue, Pineiro would have arguably had one of the most visible off-season’s that did not involve arrest in recent memory. The clips of him smashing the ball through the uprights from the other side of the field showed that the pitiful kicking game of the previous year, which included several catastrophes of missed extra points, would be a distant memory. The point after, so easy that the NFL has moved it backed 15 yards, has returned to stress-free status for Florida as roughly halfway through the season, Pineiro is 15-for-15. He has also not been too shabby from play either, as the field goal has also returned to the Gator’s arsenal. Through his first five games, he has equaled the combined-output of 7 field goals from last year’s team in 8 less attempts, starting his career with a more-than-respectable 7-for-9 mark which includes a long of 54.  If that were not enough, the 21 of his 27 kickoffs have been unreturnable. While one of those went out of bounds, fans will no doubt cut him some slack due to the overall improvement that he has brought to the kicking game. The redshirt sophomore is ready to get back to work.

“I was pretty depressed we weren’t able to play,” stated Pineiro when asked about the LSU game. This seemed to be a common theme with Florida players this week. Another common theme was that there seems to be hope from inside the program that the game being played is not an impossibility, a sentiment echoed by Pineiro when he continued, “I hope we get a chance to play them soon.”

Due to the missed game, it has been nearly a month since the Gators have played in front of the home fans. Pineiro looks forward to the return as Florida renews their rivalry with unranked divisional opponent Missouri (2-3, 0-2) for homecoming on Saturday.

“It should be exciting,” exclaimed the beaming kicker, who clearly enjoys the backing he receives from the faithful. “I miss kicking at home, home is my favorite place to kick at because of the crowd and everybody supports us so I’m excited to be back. Hopefully we get the whole student section packed and hopefully it’s a good crowd, it should be fun, it's my first one (homecoming) so I’m excited.”

While pleased with the start, Pineiro has not been one for setting small targets, as his 70+ yard efforts in training have indicated. With such skill, hearing that the kicker has his eyes on the top prize for his position is not surprising.

“Well, I think I could always get better but my expectations are hopefully to win the Lou Groza,” stated Pineiro when asked to critique his start. “That’s my goal and that’s what I practiced for when I first got here but let’s see how the rest of the season goes.”

While his 77.8% is a dramatic improvement 41.2% that the Gators saw last year from numerous kickers, that percentage does not place Pineiro in the top 40 for kicking accuracy this year at present. With more consistency, kicking’s top award does seem like something that could be in his future.

Neither statistics nor consistency is an issue for the second part of the Gators kicking duo. At 50.2 yards-per-punt (good for 2nd nationally), redshirt-junior Johnny Townsend is improving on his sophomore season which garnered numerous ALL-SEC nods. The Orlando native admitted he was aware of his standing.

“I check it pretty frequently,” replied Townsend when asked if he keeps up with it. “I'm a real competitive guy so I love to look at the standings and also see where a lot of my friends are on the rankings as well.”

 The redshirt-junior also showed some humility when asked what is feels like to be considered amongst the best in the nation. “It's a huge honor. I know we put a lot of hard work in the offseason so we're striving to be the best every day so hopefully that will pay off at the end of the year.”

While the offense has sputtered in the absence of Luke Del Rio at the quarterback position, Townsend has had plenty of opportunities to apply his trade. With a net-average of 43.92 yards-per-attempt (7th nationally), the Gators punter has been integral in ensuring that opposing offenses have long distances to cover before scoring. "I just like trying to make the biggest impact I can to help my team,” stated Townsend when asked how he gains gratification from his work. “I strive every week to pin opponents deep and give them long fields to work with, and if the defense has the opportunity to get a safety or allow the team to travel 95 yards to score points, that's very difficult.”

When queried as to whether the typically-thankless job of punter is ever celebrated by his teammates, he was quick to assure us that the prime beneficiaries of his work are indeed grateful for his effort. “The defense does a lot, yeah,” chuckled Townsend. “I'm their best friend in their mind.”

With much uncertainty entering the homecoming contest on Saturday, the Gators find themselves secure that when called upon, the specialists on this football squad have as much talent as anyone in the nation. With these two performing at a high level, their contributions will likely be paramount in what is a massively important conference game. Townsend understands the impact the he and Pineiro can make.

“Well, we're always trying to make a point every week,” stated Townsend, when asked about the importance of this week’s game. “We're just going to focus week-to-week and do what we can do to make the biggest impact not only in the SEC but for our team."


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