Special teams battles well underway for Cougs

PULLMAN – Dave Ungerer, the first-year Washington State assistant coach with a national reputation for his special teams prowess, knows exactly what he wants to say. Ask him his aim with the Cougar special teams and he wastes no words. Ask him if senior kicker Nico Grasu, coming off a tough year, is going to hang onto his job and the coach is uplifting yet open ended.

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While senior punter Reid Forrest and senior long snapper Zach Enyeart provide big reasons to smile, there's no getting around a couple of salient stats: The Cougs placed ninth in the Pac-10 last season in punt return yards allowed and tenth in kickoff return yards allowed.

Moreover, there's a troubling trend line. WSU's special teams have been largely woeful since 2004.


How to break the chain of ineptitude?

Focus and discipline will help right the ship, as will new schemes he began introducing in the spring, says Ungerer, who has overseen outstanding special teams at Alabama, Cal, Oregon State and elsewhere in his 25-year coaching career. But the bottom line is that "we hope to play aggressive football."

To that end, he's planning to build around guys who are highly athletic and love to hit, such as Arthur Burns, Tyree Toomer, Casey Locker and Sekope Kaufusi.

"We have to make the field shorter for our offense and lengthen the field for our defense. That would be the motto for us," Ungerer told Cougfan.com Monday following WSU's second practice of fall camp.

In regard to placekicking, Grasu, a two-year starter who made 6-of-10 field goal tries last season before going down with a thigh sprain, is battling walk-on true freshman Andrew Furney of Burlington, who holds the state high school record for field goals.


"We are in the beginning stages of it all," Ungerer says of their battle. "We have a couple of weeks to evaluate it still. Of course with Nico, having been here, he has the experience of kicking in game situations and dealing with game pressure.

"Our goal with Furney is to continue to press him and see how the young kid will step up under pressure. He looks to have a big strong leg and he gets the ball up really quick. It should be a real interesting battle between the two."

At punter, Forrest is an honors candidate. And his heir-apparent, freshman walk on Jake Miller of Spokane, has shown in the early going of fall camp that he's a worthy successor.

As for returning punts and kicks, Ungerer has no shortage of candidates in Nolan Washington, Leon Brooks, Chantz Staden, Tracy Clark, Carl Winston, Logwone Mitz and true freshmen speed merchants Ricky Galvin and Blair Bomber.

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