Specialists get their start

For three young Badger football players, special teams is an avenue to success

The special teams unit is not generally known as one of the flashiest aspects of a football team. The specialists come in, cover a kickoff or block for a punt return and try to do the little things to put their team in better field position or to back their opponent against the wall. After being in the game for only one play at a time, most head back to the sidelines waiting for their next special team opportunity to arise.

It may sound like a simple task to be on special teams but for many newcomers, it provides them a chance to ease into the game setting. Take for example redshirt freshmen defensive backs Ben Strickland and James Kamoku. Both made their first game appearances this past weekend against Central Florida on the special teams. They both started on the kick coverage team while Kamoku also contributed on the punt return team.

Even though it was their first game, neither really felt nervous and both were happy to finally get a shot at playing time.

"Like everyone else I was excited to just get out on the field and do my part," Strickland said. "The first play, a new atmosphere, a new stadium, it was exciting to be there and I'm just glad I got to be a part of it and you just got to do the best you can once you get onto the field."

Sophomore Zach Hampton was in the same position last year. After redshirting his first season, he broke in with the Badgers last year on special teams and is still contributing on various assignments. Last year, Hampton recorded six tackles while covering kickoffs—five of which came in the final two games of the season. He also worked in with the punt return unit. This year he has already played on the punt return and kickoff teams and recorded one tackle against UCF. This weekend Hampton said that he will be on the kickoff return team as well.

"This year on special teams is not really different, it's all the same," Hampton said. "I'm excited and everything but this year I felt that I was going to try and keep the hype down and put that in my back pocket and just go out there and make more plays like the end of the year last year and try and build upon what I started last year and make it better this year."

Each player serves a different role on the various special teams units. On the kickoff team, Strickland and Hampton are the third men in on either side of the formation and are expected to use their speed to get down field and make a play on the ball carrier. The coverage unit, however, only had to make three tackles due to true freshman Taylor Mehlhaff's three touchbacks in last weekend's game.

"I did my job and he did his job," Kamoku said with a laugh regarding Mehlhaff's kickoffs.

All three players worked hard through their redshirt seasons to earn an opportunity on special teams. Hampton was recognized early in his redshirt season with scout offensive player of the week honors while Strickland received defensive honors twice last year. Kamoku did not officially get recognition but knew he had to work on a lot to secure his spot on special teams.

"I just had to give effort to show that I wanted to be there," Kamoku said. "I had to show that I wanted to be on the field and to show the coaches and my teammates that they could trust me to get the job done. It's all about trust."

All in all, the special teams are providing these three with a great opportunity. They are getting some playing time, making big plays that help set the tempo for the rest of the team and are trying to use the experience as a stepping stone into more playing time in the future at their assigned positions.

"Obviously special teams are just an opportunity to be on the field," Strickland said. "When you're on the field, you've got other guys counting on you to do your part so you just have to go full go and do your part the best you can with no regrets."

"I hope to get experience mostly from my time on special teams." Kamoku said. "To get experience in the game, and the speed of the game…coach Alvarez is always talking about getting adjusted to the speed of the game…right now special teams is helping me to do that. It's also helping me use team work and ‘we' instead of ‘I'."

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