Navy is entering the 2013 football season with established starters at kicker, punter and on the return teams. Three of the four top returners are seniors so some of the incoming plebes have a chance to add depth. In the last of its series GoMids.com takes a look at the new Midshipmen joining Navy's special teams.
Alex Barta was the punter last year for the Naval Academy Prep School. Barta (6-3, 210) handled both the kicking and punting at Clarkston high school in Michigan. His senior year he was selected First Team All-County and All-League. As a junior in 2010 he was perfect on extra points, hit four of five field goal attempts and averaged 37 yards on 35 punts. He was a First Team All-League selection.
Barta was a highly ranked punter by all of the major special team high school recruiting services. It was easy to see why after watching him perform at NAPS last season. Alex is a terrific punter. He possesses a very strong leg and he can really drive the ball. Barta can kick for both distance and hang time. Barta's punting averages can be deceiving because, for example, rather than blast a punt into the end zone from midfield he'll put air under the ball and force a fair catch inside the 20-yard line. A lot of his punts weren't returnable because of the hang time he puts on them. Alex helped create field position for NAPS all season. Barta is a talented punter and should be a factor in the future probably after Beltran graduates.
D.J. Grant-Johnson (6-2, 195) was the field goal kicker last year at the Naval Academy Prep School. Grant-Johnson handled both the kicking and punting at Kamehameha Hawaii high school in Hawaii. Grant-Johnson had a very productive senior season. He made 10 of 11 field goal attempts with a season long of 52 yards. In the last game of the season at home against Ka'u, he was just short on a 58-yard attempt, which would have set a state record. Grant-Johnson also played soccer and volleyball in high school. D.J. is a surfer and originally wanted to attend Hawaii but they do not offer scholarships to kickers so he chose Navy.
Grant-Johnson was very inconsistent last season at NAPS. He hooked a number of field goals and missed a number of extra points. For example against Hudson Valley Community College he opened the scoring with a pair of 37 and 33-yard field goals then botched an extra point after NAPS first touchdown. Grant-Johnson, like many kickers out of high school, at times hooked the ball as he was kicking off the grass for the first time without a tee. In fairness to him, kicking at Nimitz field in Newport can be a challenge. NAPS kickers lack a separate practice field to hone their skills and the windy autumn conditions often test kickers. Grant-Johnson also lost his snapper Josh Antol midway through the season which probably affected his timing. The bottom line is Grant-Johnson has a good leg but must improve his technique and become a lot more consistent at Navy if he hopes to eventually move up the depth chart.
Max Lee was another place kicker who attended the Naval Academy Prep School last fall but he was hurt in preseason training camp. Lee didn't play all year but he's healthy now. Lee stands 6-foot-1 inch tall and weighs 185 pounds. He played for Parker high school in San Diego, California. As a senior in 2011 Lee converted 40 extra points and made seven field goals. Max kicked off 29 times and had eleven touchbacks. Lee is a good athlete who competed in four sports in high school.
Lee wasn't the only special teams' player injured at NAPS last fall. The Naval Academy Prep School team also lost their holder and long snapper during the season. They were so depleted that by the end of the year it in the battle for the Reasoner Trophy against the United States Military Academy Prep School they had to go for the two-point conversion after every touchdown in their amazing last second 42-37 victory.
One of the players that were injured was long snapper Josh Antol. He was a very good snapper but injured his knee covering a kick halfway through the season in the game against Navy JV. Josh missed the rest of the year. Antol was the long snapper and a two year offensive line starter at Mission Viejo in California. Antol is 6-1, 185 pounds and played at one of the better high school programs in the country. He was generally ranked as one of the more proficient long snappers on the West Coast as a high school senior. He was ranked eleventh nationally among all high school long snappers during the 2012 recruiting season. Antol has a chance to eventually push for a starting job. He's very good and remarkably consistent.
Direct admit Andrew Mitchell is a 6-5, 220 pound kicker and punter who was his team's starting quarterback at Niceville high school in Florida. He was named to the All-State team his senior year. Mitchell was the starting quarterback at Niceville two seasons and the varsity kicker for all four years. As a kicker he earned All-County honors as a sophomore and was named All-Panhandle in his junior season. Mitchell is a big, strong player. He made a number of field goals over 50 yards with a career long of 58 during his junior season. He chose Navy over offers from Jacksonville State and UCF.
Another direct admit kicker is Kyle O'Connor (5-9, 160) from New Bern high school in North Carolina. O'Conner played football and soccer in high school. He was a JV linebacker before focusing on kicking his last two years. He also handled the punting his senior season but he is a placekicker. His senior season he was named to the North Carolina All-State, his All-County and All conference teams as a kicker. Kyle attended the Kohl's kicking camps. He won the UC Challenge field goal competition in Jan of 2012 and was named to the 2013 Kohl's All-American Team. He has a strong leg and averages 69-yards on his kickoffs. He has the ability to emerge as the kickoff specialist.
In the return game Brandon Clements was the primary kick returner for the Naval Academy Prep School last fall. He has good speed and catches the ball cleanly. Clements showed his top end speed on an 85-yard kick off return for a touchdown against Bridgton Academy. He was productive and effective returner with a good burst. Speedy slotbacks Tago Smith and Toneo Gulley, who scored the game winning kick off return touchdown against USMAPS on a lateral with no time left, also have the ability to eventually contribute on kickoff returns. On the coverage teams look for Danny Gonzalez, Daiquan Thomasson and Cameron Bryant to be among those who contribute.
Meet the New Mids: Special Teams
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