The Art of Blocking Kicks

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. --- Blocking a kick isn't just about speed, or size, or strength or leaping ability – not according to junior linebacker and special teams demon Bruce Carter. "It's about ‘want to'," Carter said. "That's what I tell the guys all the time."

Carter should know. He led the nation in blocked kicks last year with five, tying a North Carolina record for blocks in a season. Carter got his hands on a punt at Miami, knocked down three more against Connecticut (a single game record at UNC) and blocked a field goal attempt at Virginia. In fact, counting the Miami block, Carter blocked four consecutive punt attempts by UNC opponents. The last punt block against Connecticut resulted in a touchdown when safety Matt Merletti fell on the ball in the end zone.

You might say Carter put the "special" in North Carolina's special teams. Other facets of North Carolina special teams did stand out last season. The Tar Heels were second in the ACC in covering kickoffs, and second in the ACC in covering punts. They were also third in the ACC in kickoff returns. Those were solid stats on special teams, but particularly after returner Brandon Tate went down to injury, no individual special teams player was more spectacular than Carter.

It's a role he'll reprise this season. "Yes, I was elected as captain of the punt coverage team," Carter said, something you can tell he takes seriously. It might be unusual for someone like Carter, a veteran linebacker for the Tar Heels, to also line up on a special teams unit, but Carter says that many veterans will continue their roles on special teams.

It may seem simple to Carter, just a matter of having the "want to," but his skill at blocking kicks mystifies fans and opponents – even his teammates. "I am out there with him (on the punt coverage team)," teammate and fellow linebacker Quan Sturdivant said, "but I know he's going to get to the ball before I can."

Carter is now North Carolina's not-so-secret special teams weapon. His desire to block kicks came to him during his freshman season in a game against South Carolina when he just missed on another block. After that near-miss, Carter made something of a film study out of how to block punts.

"I could have got one but I jumped in the air," Carter said about that game. "You've got to shoot your hands down, not up."

If the Tar Heels are to improve on last season's 8-5 mark, a positive turnover margin has to be part of the equation. Interceptions may be hard to predict – they tend to come, or not come, in bunches – and fumbles also seem to be a fickle part of football life. Creating a turnover on special teams, however, almost always seems to be a game-changing event.

Sure it helps to have 4.45 speed in the forty, and owning the vertical leap record for UNC linebackers (40 ½ inches) probably doesn't hurt. And just being a "freakish athlete," as defensive tackle Marvin Austin once described him, also probably helps, but there are other great athletes on punt coverage teams that never get close to blocking five kicks in their career.

Maybe Carter is right - when it comes to blocking kicks, perhaps it's just a matter of having the "want to."


* Both Carter and Sturdivant said that the battle between Kevin Reddick and Zach Brown may go down to wire, but the named starter may not matter. "I think they'll both play a lot," Carter said. "It's just getting them prepared to play that first game," Sturdivant said.

* The wide receivers that are impressing Carter? "Dwight Jones and Todd Harrelson," he said.

* The defense wants to be the "best in the ACC," according to Quan Sturdivant. How do you measure what the "best in the ACC' is in terms of defense. "Wins," Sturdivant said. "Stats to some degree, but it's about the wins, really."

Inside Carolina Top Stories