Football Special Teams Questions Answered

Heading into the spring drills, the San Jose State football team had some questions regarding their special teams that needed to be answered. Chiefly, who was going to replace four-year starting place-kicker Jared Strubeck? That question appears to have been answered. Inside Sparta takes a look at where the Spartans' special teams are at as the 2009 season approaches.

Now that the spring football drills have ended, one thing is clear for the San Jose State Spartans, the special teams are not expected to be an area of major concern. The biggest question regarding special teams heading into the spring was the replacement of four-year place-kicker Jared Strubeck, and that question was answered loudly by a walk-on sophomore. The Spartans lack a veteran punt returner, but all other major special team positions have experienced players coming back. Here's a look at each of those positions, and where SJSU stands heading into the 2009 season.

Tyler Cope will most likely be the primary place-kicker. Philip Zavala (No. 35), will be doing the punting in 2009
Place Kicker
Over the past four seasons, the place kicking duties for San Jose State had been predominately covered by Jared Strubeck. In his four seasons as a Spartan, Strubeck made 43 of 72 field goal attempts (59.7-percent) and 109 of 118 point after attempts (92.3-percent). Strubeck struggled with consistency in his last two seasons at San Jose State, but did manage to kick two key 4th quarter field goals, including a career best 50 yarder, that were critical in the Spartans defeating the University of Hawaii in 2008. With no clear heir apparent to Strubeck on the returning spring roster, it was hoped that someone would emerge in the spring, in order to avoid having to count on incoming freshman Harrison Waid, who is currently still attending Fremont High School in Sunnyvale, Calif. The coaches can rest easy now, thanks to Tyler Cope, a sophomore transfer from the University of Colorado. Cope impressed coaches and fans alike throughout the spring with both his leg strength and accuracy, which included a 47 yard kick in the final spring scrimmage. He easily out performed returning back-up kicker Will Johnson, and is the clear No.1 place-kicker on the roster heading into the fall. Cope spent one season at Colorado as a walk-on freshman in 2007. He did not attempt any field goals for the Buffaloes, but did kick-off 58 times, with six touchbacks. As a First-Team All-State place kicker for Jesuit High School in Portland, Oregon in 2006, Cope broke the Oregon state high school record for PAT's, making good on 83 of 86. After not playing in 2008, Cope has three years to play three seasons for San Jose State.

Matt Wigley looks to return to his long snapping duties in 2009
Long Snapper
The role of long snapper is one of the few positions in sports in which greatness is measured in not having ones name called out during games. In football, the only time a long snapper is noticed is when they make a mistake. In 2008, Spartans' long snapper Matt Wigley very quietly played his position as well as any player on the team did their own. Wigley came to San Jose State in 2008 as a package deal along with punter Phil Zavala from City College of San Francisco. He was a big factor in the Spartans not having a single kick blocked all of last season. His primary back-up, in all likelihood, will be Amar Pal, a 6-foot-4, 275-pound lineman from Santa Monica High School.

Senior Phil Zavala returns as the Spartans' starting punter. In 2008, Zavala punted 76 times for 2,781 yards, a 36.6 average. His longest punt was for 58 yards. Three punts were touchbacks and 20 were downed inside the 20 yard line. It is hoped that Zavala will bring his average up closer to 40 yards per punt, which will put him on par with his predecessor Waylon Prather. Should Zavala struggle, his back-up will be the previously mentioned Harrison Waid, who averaged 45.2 yards per punt for Fremont High School in 2008.

Will Michael Avila be leaving opposing defenders in his dust on kickoff and punt returns in 2009?
Punt Returner
For the past three seasons, Head Coach Dick Tomey has relied on a senior to be the primary punt returner for the Spartans (James Jones in 2006; Dwight Lowery in 2007, and Yonus Davis in 2008). Four Spartans that returned punts in 2008 are back, but their combined total of returns is only 11, for a paltry 52 yards. Of those four players, (Kevin Jurovich, Mike Avila, Brandon Rutley, and Tuike Tuipalotu), only Kevin Jurovich is a senior. This leads us to believe that he will more than likely receive the bulk of the punt returns in 2009.

Kick Returner
The leading kick returner from last season, Brandon Rutley (28 returns, 748 yards, 26.7 avg.) is only a sophomore. Joining him will be junior Dominique Hunsucker, who redshirted last season but had 16 returns for 329 yards (20.6 avg.) in 2007. Look for speed merchants Josh Harrison and Mike Avila to also contribute in 2009.

Mike Morgan is Senior Editor for Inside Sparta. You may contact Mike with any questions, comments, or tips at

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