Decision Time: Punting, Return Duties Decided

Ben Grogan, Zach Sinor to handle kicking, punting duties

STILLWATER – Ben Grogan will handle the field goals and extra points for Oklahoma State this season and it's a good bet that he will handle kickoffs as well. Grogan is striking the ball with more force and authority than ever before in an Oklahoma State uniform now that a torn labrum in his kicking hip has been repaired.

Even with the injury, Grogan was perfect on 41 PAT tries last season and connected on 22-of-28 field goals including a very short one with very large ramifications in Norman to help Oklahoma State score a 38-35 overtime win in Bedlam. It's great that Grogan is better than ever, but what about the Cowboys award winning special teams? How about punting and what about cover units and returns, especially returns, which have been a source of pride and entertainment for Oklahoma State fans?

The returns could be passed off to some young apprentices at some point this season. Special teams coordinator Robbie Discher said he is confident with all the returning and experienced players from his various units that those areas will be strong this season. How about the punter? That may be the biggest single player difference in the special teams after Kip Smith averaged 41.8 yards on 81 punts last season. 

Enter redshirt freshman and former Texas All-State punter Zach Sinor. Sinor averaged 43.5 yards a punt on 42 kicks in his senior season and was named first-team on the Texas Football All-State team and the Associated Press Sports Editor's Class 4A All-State team. This summer Sinor, like all Cowboys, worked on his strength and came out with some really impressive (for a punter) biceps. 

"Yes sir, coach (Rob) Glass had me on the kicker workout this past summer and it really helped out a lot," Sinor said being serious after we kidded him about the biceps. He's working on looking like former Baylor punter and All-American Daniel Sepulveda. 

"One day they asked who is the punter and somebody said that Zach was kicking the ball and he can punt. It came around and we did punt and I did exceptionally well. Then the varsity punter didn't do well and they brought me up for the day. We had a scrimmage and I hit a 55-yard punt and they said you're our starting punter on varsity."
Back in high school at Medina Valley High in Castroville, Texas, Sinor was a quarterback and a baseball player but that all changed going into his freshman season. He was on the road to being a specialist. 

"Going into my freshman year I was a quarterback and I lost my spot because we went to the World Series in (youth) baseball and they wanted to put me at defensive tackle," Sinor explained. "I really didn't want to do that, but I said I would do whatever I could for the team so I played defensive tackle. I asked if I could move back and so I went back to quarterback and played on the JV as a sophomore.

"One day they asked who is the punter and somebody said that Zach was kicking the ball and he can punt. It came around and we did punt and I did exceptionally well. Then the varsity punter didn't do well and they brought me up for the day. We had a scrimmage and I hit a 55-yard punt and they said you're our starting punter on varsity."

Most punters have gurus like former NFL kicker Chris Sailer, former Steelers kicker Jeff Reed or Pro Football Hall of Fame punter Ray Guy. For the most part, Sinor is self taught.

"I really didn't and I don't claim anybody," he said. "I went to one Ray Guy camp, went to one camp after my sophomore year when I learned I was going to be the punter. Went to one camp and then everything else was me working with myself on punting, working on my own."

Sinor has had a good camp and Discher is confident. Mike Gundy is too but for the head coach it is always a concern until you see the player do it under lights on a Saturday night (or in the case of OSU's season opener Thursday night, Sept. 3).

As for returns, Gundy was asked after last Thursday's scrimmage who would be in the role of kickoff and punt returns.

"(Brandon) Sheperd, (David) Glidden, (Jalen) McCleskey, (Jeff) Carr. We use (James) Washington and (Jhajuan) Seales some," Gundy answered.

My best guess is that it will be Brandon Sheperd and James Washington likely to start on kickoffs and David Glidden to start out fielding punts. However, once the Cowboys have a lead and a chance for a trial by fire in a game for speedy and slippery Jeff Carr and Jalen McCleskey then look out because both of them could be very entertaining for the fans.

In high school, Carr only had one return as a senior at Temple and it was a 100-yard kickoff return for touchdown. I'd like to have seen that and makes me wonder why his coach didn't want to see more. In Covington, La. at St. Paul's, McClesky averaged 17.8 yards a kickoff return as a senior and as a junior averaged 21.0 yards a return on seven kickoffs. He also returned seven punts but for just 11 yards total. In fall camp both McClesky and Carr have made big plays in practices and scrimmages.

"He's just making plays and we're hoping he can help us on special teams," Gundy said of the son of former NFL defensive back J.J. McClesky. "When guys come in and compete and earn the right to play, we're going to put them in there."

It was also very interesting that Gundy made this observation as well. The plans are for only three or four freshmen to play in the opener and that includes safety three-star Kenneth McGruder and four-star defensive tackle Darrion Daniels as well as Carr and McClesky, a couple of two stars, if that. 

"You know it's interesting, in recruiting those were the two guys that in a lot of people's opinions weren't heavily recruited as other players in our class and other classes in the conference," Gundy said. "They end up being the guys that it looks like are going to compete in the first game."

Hopefully getting a chance to return kickoffs and punts as soon as the first game.

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