"Just for Kicks" with Aaron Mills
It's that time again! The Cardinal are 23-3 over the past two seasons and this year will be perhaps the most challenging in recent memory. The 2012 Stanford football team has the opportunity to silence the critics and prove that there is more to this team than just the quarterback position. Cardinal fans know this to be true…so let's get started!
I would like to extend my appreciation to Pete Alamar, Stanford's first-year Special Teams Coach, for taking time out of his busy schedule to speak with me about the upcoming season. I would also like to thank Alan George, Assistant Director in the Athletics Communications & Media Relations department for arranging the interview.
Q: What did you miss the most while coaching outside of the Pac-10 (Pac-12) since the end of the 2009 season?
A: Coaching at Fresno State was a great experience. But growing up as a West Coast kid from Southern California, coaching in the Pac-10 (Pac-12) was a goal of mine. I may be a bit biased, but I believe that the Pac-12 conference is the best all-around conference in the country.
(Aside) This will be Coach Alamar's 13th season as a coach in the Pac-12 conference, with previous stints at Arizona and Cal.
Q: Has anything in particular stood out on the special teams thus far in fall camp?
A: I wouldn't say that this was a surprise, but I was pleased that the guys understand and embrace the importance of special teams. They have proven their dedication by working hard at it both on and off the field. The older guys (veterans) have done a great job helping the freshmen understand that culture.
A: I wasn't with the team for the Fiesta Bowl but I can tell you (as anyone can imagine) that those were tough moments for Jordan. It's impossible not to think about, especially for the first few days. I do know that the rest of Jordan's teammates picked him up and were there to support him. At the end of the day, his success (any kicker's success) is predicated on having short-term memory. Jordan has done a good job of putting the past behind him and has prepared well for this upcoming season.
(Aside) Jordan had an electric start to his freshman season by hitting 11 of his first 12 field-goal attempts. However, he finished the season 2-7 and missed, among others, a game-winning field goal against Oklahoma State. He must forget about the past and get off to a good start so he can bury those old memories. I know the feeling and will be his biggest cheerleader for a quick turnaround.
Q: Can you comment on the loss of punter David Green to graduation and how Daniel Zychlinski has been preparing for this season as the starting punter? (Want to know if his mindset has changed given his history of rotating with David Green)
A: It is always a loss when you lose an experienced leg. David had an excellent career at Stanford and I know of his tremendous work ethic. I have been with the Special Teams since this past Spring and I can tell you that "Z" has incorporated some fundamental changes to help with his consistency. He has a big leg, but consistency is of utmost importance. We also have depth again at the punting position in sophomore Ben Rhyne and freshman Conrad Ukropina. Ben has made some changes, getting more upright in his stance which has produced nice results. Conrad has also done nicely this fall. He is further along in his progress as a kicker, but he gives is added depth in both areas.
(Aside) It is definitely a luxury to have depth with the kicking and punting specialists. Eric Whitaker was 4-5 on field goals last year when Jordan Williamson was out with an injury. Traditionally, Stanford does not have the amount of walk-ons that other schools get due to the high tuition fees and strict admission guidelines. Personally, if I was not offered a scholarship to Stanford back in 1990, I would have ended up accepting a scholarship to Florida State (my home state) because of the high cost of tuition at Stanford. Additionally, I will be referring to Daniel Zychlinski as "Z" since Coach Alamar used it as his moniker. "Z" has a 40.3 yard average on 31 career punts.
Q: Who will be handling the kickoff duties this season?
A: Jordan Williamson and Ben Rhyne.
(Aside) Coach Alamar did not disclose what the kickoff coverage philosophy would be for the 2012 season with the new rule change in effect (kickoff placement has been moved up five yards to the 35-yard line). Some schools might try to hang kickoffs up higher and try to pin opponents inside the 20-yard line. Personally, I hope that Coach Alamar calls for touchbacks whenever possible. Pinning an opponent occasionally at the 15-yard line is not worth risking injury to our players or giving up a big return. Kick ‘em deep Coach!
Q: Will "Z" be the holder again this season?
(Aside) Coach Alamar gave high praise to "Z" regarding his skill at the holding position. I must concur with Coach Alamar as I have not seen any fault with Daniel's placements in past seasons. The holder has to be one of the most underappreciated positions on special teams. Everyone sees the snap and the kick or punt, but it is hard to notice good holds. Kudos "Z" on a great job!
(Aside) Daniel Zychlinski and former Stanford punter, Jay Ottovegio are out of Florida, as is yours truly. Perhaps in the future Coach Alamar should continue to look for more punters from the Sunshine State!
Q: Can you comment on the snapping situation this season and how fall camp has been going in this regard?
A: Reed Miller has been coming along nicely and we have a couple of other guys in the mix as needed.
(Aside) That will be good news for Stanford if Reed Miller can come in and provide consistency at the snapper position, as he is only a freshman.
Q: How are the punt and kickoff coverage units looking thus far?
A: We have a good balance of experienced and younger guys on both units. I cannot say specifically who the younger guys will be, as that will be determined by who emerges as play makers when we hit the field.
Q: Ty Montgomery came on strong at the wide receiver position late last season. Will his emergence as a big-time receiver have any effect on his utilization as a kickoff returner? Will Chris Owusu's past concussions be a cautionary tale against Montgomery taking too many kickoff returns? Your thoughts?
A: Ty will be back there. We have good young talent that will be back there as well. How often Ty will be back there will be determined by who else develops into a quality returner alongside him.
Q: How about the punt return unit?
A: Drew Terrell will be back on punt returns.
(Aside) Look for more of the same quality out of the punt return unit this season. This is Terrell's fourth year on punt returns for the Cardinal. Drew received All-Pac 12 Honors last season, averaging 12.0 yards per return. Over his career, Terrell has averaged 10.8 yards per return in 47 attempts.
Q: Your special teams units blocked 18 kicks over the past two seasons at Fresno State (a phenomenal statistic). What was the breakdown of those blocks (PAT/FGs versus punts)? How would you credit that success? scheme? athletes? opponents weaknesses?
A: We blocked 11 PAT/FGs and seven punts. There are a number of reasons for our success in this area. My guys like to get after it. We implement some aggressive schemes, but always with an emphasis on being smart. Our strong attention to detail allows us opportunities to make certain plays when the situation arises. My mission has not changed now that I am heading up the Special Teams at Stanford. We will look to take points off the board and win the field position battle.
(Aside) With the departure of Andrew Luck, the Cardinal will have to pick up more in some areas and taking points off the board and winning the field position battle will go a long way in dominating one-third of every game (offense and defense being the other two phases). The whole must prove to be greater than the sum of its parts.
PAC-12 INSIDE THE NUMBERS:
STANFORD SPECIAL TEAMS 2011
1. Arizona State 25.1
6. Stanford 22.5
1. Arizona State 15.3
3. Stanford 11.3
1. Oregon 41.4
10. Stanford 36.2
Kickoff Coverage (average starting point)
1. Utah 22.7 yard line
4. Stanford 26.0 yard line
AT A GLANCE: San Jose State SPECIAL TEAMS
San Jose State returns stand-out punter and kickoff specialist, Harrison Waid. This will be Waid's fourth year as the Spartans punter, with a career average of 43.8 yards per punt. Harrison has also been listed on the Ray Guy Award watch list.
True freshman Austin Lopez beat out Harrison Waid for the placekicking duties. This might be an area for Coach Alamar to put pressure on, as the entire placekicking battery unit consists of freshmen. Ryan DiSalvo (snapper) and Daniel Bradbury (holder) are the other freshmen rounding out the unit. Stanford might even look to put pressure on the Spartan punting game to test DiSalvo's consistency in his first collegiate game as a snapper.
Well, there you have it! Spirits are high on my end in anticipation for the 2012 season! It's time to play hard and erase our one-game losing streak (we did!). Yes, we've only had three such losing streaks in the last two seasons and I would like to keep it that way.