Flipping the Field

After regaining his starting job as a senior, punter Rob Park has enjoyed a successful season marked with consistency. Read about it inside.

Contributing on special teams isn't a glorious affair.

There's rarely notoriety, as drawing the least amount of attention possible is usually a good thing. When things go right, no one notices. It almost becomes commonplace.

With efficiency as the barometer, this season has been everything punter Rob Park could have wanted.

"Coming into the season with a new coaching staff, there was really different mindset about special teams," said Park. "I wanted to make a difference in our team winning games this season. That's what we've been able to do, especially in the punting game."

After gaining the starting nod late in fall practice, Park has exceeded expectations. Not only was the senior consistent this season, he also did an admirable job in flipping the field for his defense.

Park averaged 38.9 yards per punt, while pinning the opposition inside the 20 yard line 16 times. Better yet, not a single one of his 52 punts were blocked, while six found the endzone for touchbacks.

"With Preston (Powers) snapping the ball and the guys up front picking up their men and covering down field, it's been a smooth operation all year. We've pinned our opposition back a lot and got a lot of fair catches.

"We haven't given up any big plays and have made some as well. It feels good going out there and knowing we can make a difference in games in the punting unit."

A punter's job isn't the easiest. They receive more blame than they deserve and are often given less praise than warranted.

But Park was steady as they go.

"The consistency has really been there for me all year, but our special teams overall have really made a difference," said Park. "We've had some fake kicks and some big returns. Special teams have really been a big factor this year. The way the coaches go about it is much different than year's past.

"They know we're individuals and allow us to tweak what we need to tweak. We love coach Shibest and want to work hard for him. He's been really positive."

Enough can't be said for the job special teams coach James Shibest has done with his group. No longer are the Rebels reliant upon rugby kicks and inconsistent specialty practice.

The Rebels were ranked no lower than sixth in all major special teams' categories and not once was there a glaring weakness. If not for a questionable call in Fayetteville, 2008 could have easily been identified as "flawless."

"I am most proud of them than anything on this team," said head coach Houston Nutt. "I did not tell you a year ago how scared I was of our special teams after watching them on film from 2007. It was horrible. The kickers weren't kicking, the protectors weren't protecting and the tackling was poor. The real estate was so uneven that every team was playing on a short field. That had to change. James Shibest deserves so much credit for that change."

And Park deserves as much praise as anyone.


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