Vanderbilt Roster Preview: Special Teams

Special teams are often taken for granted. That unit is expected to accomplish its mission without causing damage to the team's prospects of victory. But things like missed chip shot field goals, shanked punts, opponent punt/kick returns for TDs and similar events can wreck a team's season. Here is a look at Vandy's special team's players.


Reid Nelson, an Alabama native, has yet to see action in a game as a Commodore. He averaged 43 yards a punt in high school.  He could be the guy in 2016 but will have to fend off incoming freshman punter Sam Loy.

Sam Loy was rated a 5-star kicking prospect by at least one service.  He has outstanding leg strength and technique.  Averaging 42 yards a punt as a senior, Loy traveled far away to Australia in the offseason to perfect his craft. He had punts travel 69 and 75 yards as a senior.  As a kickoff man, he allowed just one return in 51 kickoffs.   


Hayden Lekacz is a junior kicker who handled most kickoffs last season. In 2015 Lekacz played in every game, allowing opponents just an average of 18.4 yards per kickoff return. He also attempted four point-after-kicks, making all four. In high school 80 percent of Lekacz kickoffs were touchbacks.

Tommy Openshaw handled both punts and field goals last season. The Florida native made 12-of-19 (62.3%) field goal attempts including 7-of-10 from 40-49 yards.  That was down from 2014 when he made 8-of-11 attempts (72.7%).  The difference between the two seasons is that in 2014 Openshaw focused on only field goals while in 2015 he did both punting and kicking.  This season the staff plans to utilize him at only kicking which will hopefully help him make a higher percentage of his field goal attempts.  He certainly looked good in the Commodore spring game making 5-of-5 attempts including a 51-yarder. 


Jacob Schultz filled in well for an injured Wilson Johnson last season after Wilson was injured and was, therefore, doing both PAT snapping and long snapping most of the season.  His experience from 2015 should make him even more reliable in the upcoming season.

Wilson Johnson started the 2015 season as the Commodore's long snapper but was injured during the Georgia game and missed the remainder of the season. If he is fully recovered from  that injury he'll likely have a great shot and getting back into the long snapping mix this season.

Davis Winkie was a late signee in Derek Mason's first recruiting class. Winkie has yet to see action in his Commodore career but with a new special team's coach along with some hard work, he has a chance to work his way into playing time. 


Darrius Sims is on of the most dynamic, versatile players ever to wear a Vanderbilt uniform.  Special teams is a role where Sims has made a big impact for Vandy.  In 2014 he returned kickoffs 91 and 100 yards against South Carolina which caused Steve Spurrier to take over coaching the Gamecock return coverage units. Sims finished that season leading the SEC in kickoff returns with a 24.5 yard per return average. However, last year Sims' return average dropped to 18.9 yards a return.  That could be because opponents kicked away from him. Whatever the reason was, there is now a new special teams coach at Vanderbilt and I'm sure one of his marching orders is to get Sims back to where he was returning kickoffs.

Ryan White had 20 punt returns for 150 yards (7.5 YPR), his longest return going for 36 yards. He was pretty good as a returner but had a couple muffs that were worrisome. If he can secure the ball better he'll be an asset to the team.

Trey Ellis had four punt returns for 22 yards in 2015. The longest return went for 10 yards.  He was reliable catching and securing the ball, which is the most important responsibility for punt returners.  When a defense has worked hard to force a punt the worst thing a team should do is turn the ball back over to the opponent.

Some freshmen could also make some noise as return men.  Donaven Tennyson returned three kicks for touchdowns as a junior in high school.  Kalija Lipscomb and Zaire Jones both returned kicks as well with success.


Give Derek Mason credit for making a move to improve Vandy's special teams.  There's enough talent on this team to have a solid kicking game.  Jeff Genyk has been successful at several different programs running special units.  There may be some surprises in store come September 1 when the Commodores open against South Carolina.  Hopefully, they are pleasant surprises.  

Commodores Daily Top Stories