Nick O'Toole is the name that most will associate with specialist losses, as the punter is headed for a potential NFL career after participating in the combine. His best, most consistent season at West Virginia was his sophomore campaign, but he didn't have bad efforts by any means during his final two seasons. He finished his career with an average of 43.9 yards per boot, with a long of 68 yards. He also kicked off for the Mountaineers, but his pro potential is more firmly rooted in his punting ability.
O'Toole's departure also means that WVU will be looking for a holder – a job that gets little notice but is certainly an important one. After a couple of years of kicking from his holds, Josh Lambert will have to get used to a new running mate on the back end of placekicks. If that happens seamlessly, it will never be mentioned again, but it's definitely a spring priority.
Another little-mentioned absence will be that of long snapper John DePalma, who was absolutely flawless during his Mountaineer career. He too will get an NFL tryout, and figures to have a shot at being a free agent pickup if he performs well in camp. It might seem strange, but he has the potential to have a longer NFL career than any of his teammates – provided he gets the right chance at the right time. So many free agents are dependent on just that, and with only one chance to make it, the pressure will certainly be on. But there's no denying the impact he had at West Virginia – bad snaps simply weren't part of the landscape when #84 bent over the ball.
There are no redshirt freshmen listed on the current spring roster, but Billy Kinney is a player to watch that Mountaineer fans haven’t seen much of. A redshirt sophomore from hometown University High School, Kinney will compete for both the punting and kickoff specialist roles. He averaged nearly 42 yards per kick as a high school senior, but has yet to see action for the Mountaineers.
Jonn Young was recruited initially as a placekicker, but after excelling at punter over the summer he will give both a try at WVU. Barring some unforseen circumstance, he's not likely to unseat Lambert from the former role, but he will dive right into the competition with Kinney at the latter.
R.C. Brunstetter, who was Young's teammate at Davie County (N.C.) High School two years ago, transferred from N.C. State to West Virginia and will compete for the holding spot after sitting out as a transfer last year. He was a three-year starter at the position in high school.
HOW IT ALL FITS
There's a strong base with Lambert, but past that it's pretty much open competition among the WVU specialists. Kinney is the only current punting candidate listed on the roster, but special teams coach Mark Scott said he expects a couple of walk-ons to add some competition at that position, along with Young when he arrives in the fall. It might be easier for a specialist, especially a punter or kickoff guy, to make a late push, as he isn't as dependent on teammates (other than snapper and holder) and doesn't have a ton of schemes and calls to remember. Don't expect this battle to be settled early.
For kickoffs, Mike Molina is the clear incumbent at the moment, as the coaching staff doesn't want to risk overwork to Lambert. Molina had a handful of kickoffs in 2015, and converted both of his extra point attempts in 2014 blowouts, so he's been out on the field, giving him the edge over any competitors. However, he will need to continue to improve his leg strength in the hopes of getting some touchbacks, otherwise WVU's coverage teams will have to make a play after most every Mountaineer score.
At long snapper, Nick Meadows will take on the challenge of Brunstetter to see who can try to fill DePalma's shoes. Accuracy and speed are the twin watchwords here, and both will be evaluated closely during the spring and fall to see who holds the edge. As both have been on campus for at least a year, and both will participate in spring drills, Scott should have a pretty good idea as to the identity of his first teamer when the team reconvenes in August.
That leaves holder, and again, it's an open question. Kinney served as the backup a year ago, and figures to be the starter, but either Young or another sure-handed player will have to handle the backup role.
Punter/kicker for coach Holeman DeVore at Davie High, where former WVU linebacker Jared Barber played … hit 10-of-13 field goal attempts and 64-of-73 extra point attempts, scoring 94 points for his career … attended many kicking camps, which is the main way for that position to be discovered … recruited by Joe DeForest before the former assistant departed … committed June 17 … Chris Sailer’s “TOP 12” … Five-star rating by Chris Sailer Kicking Academy … Kornblue Kicking Five-Star rating and a “Fab 50” player … also a five-star rating by Kohl’s Kicking Academy as a kicker and 4.5-star rating by Kohl’s Kicking Academy as a punter … will have the opportunity to immediately compete for the punter position vacated by Nick O’Toole … could add the placekicking duties to his work load the following season after the graduation of Josh Lambert … No. 1 kicker in North Carolina, No. 4 kicker in South Region and No. 7 kicker nationally according to Scout.com … three-star rating by Scout.com … hit 5-of-5 field goal attempts and 33-of-37 extra point attempts as a junior … very versatile … is a Division I candidate in all three kicking disciplines, and doesn’t appear to have a weak link … displays advanced technique and excellent consistency, no matter whether he’s punting, placekicking or kicking off … “He’s very technically sound,” kicking guru Chris Sailer told BlueGoldNews.com. “All the small things you take for granted, such as timing and hitting his spots, he’s very good at. He’s a two-step punter, and he is 100-percent effective at getting the ball off. His overall ability stands out, and he does all three at a very high level.” … should eventually compete in all three disciplines … has a strong leg, but not one that’s among the elite levels in the nation at the present … can place punts and kickoffs in desired areas … Sailer believes that natural growth and maturity will alleviate any possible concerns … “His directional and pooch kicks are good, and he’s been [placekicking] off the ground for a long time, so he should adapt well to college,” he added. “And if anything, he’s going to get stronger, and that’s going to help him add distance and hang time.” … could also compete quickly as a kickoff specialist … 2013 NC Nike Fall Camp field goal and kickoff champion … 2014 Vegas Spring Event punt and field goal finalist … 2014 Underclassmen Event field goal champion … 2014 FBU Ohio punt champion and camp MVP … 2015 Vegas XXVI punt finalist and 2016 Vegas XXVII overall punt champion … “Jonn is an outstanding kicker,” Sailer listed on his website evaluation. “He has a great leg and kicks with excellent technique and consistency off the ground. Field goals and kickoffs are strong and near the top of his class. Also a big time punting prospect.” … Young lists former Mountaineer and current NFL player Pat McAfee as his favorite kicker.
WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen on Jonn Young – “Jonn Young went out to Las Vegas and won the national punting contest a couple weeks ago. He has a big leg. He said he is striking the ball as well as he ever has. He can kickoff as well.”
WVU recruiting coordinator Ryan Dorchester on Jonn Young – “Jonn was the specialist we targeted from the start almost two years ago. I thought he was going to be a better placekicker, but then he went out to Vegas a few weeks ago and won the national punting challenge. So, who knows where he’s best. Maybe it will be both. The last time we had a guy who could do both was Mr. (Pat) McAfee, and he was pretty good at it. Hopefully Jonn has a little of that. He’ll have some serious competition, though, so we’ll see how it works.”
Previously In The Series: