Monday, August 25, 2008


Returning kickers: 2
Incoming: 1
Lost: 2 (Clint Stitser, Kyle Zimmerman)

As has become the norm with Fresno State under special teams coach John Baxter, who’s been with Pat Hill since he took over for the Bulldogs in 1997, the special teams are special. Baxter has made the Bulldogs one of the most feared special teams units year in and year out as one of the nation’s top blocking threats. And adding to that is the return of junior cornerback A.J. Jefferson (6-0, 190), who wowed the nation last season with the top-ranking average of 35.8 yards per kick return and 2 touchdowns with a long of 98 yards. He also returned a blocked field goal more than 60 yards for a touchdown at Nevada. Jefferson has been named first-team on several publications’ preseason All-America teams.

It’s still somewhat unclear whether he’ll handle punt return duties too – that assignment was the departed Clifton Smith’s (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) last season. Now, it’ll likely be either Jefferson, sophomore wide receiver Devon Wylie (5-9, 170) or junior wide receiver Marlon Moore (6-0, 190). Wylie looks matured with speed and endurance from his true freshman campaign last season, when he was second in kick returns with 22.2 yards per attempt and a long of 47. Moore returned 4 kicks for a 28.2-yard average with a long of 34, and 2 punts for 16 yards. One of them will likely also be the other kick returner, unless junior wide receiver Chastin West (6-1, 215) reclaims the role he held in 2006 before missing last season with injury. West averaged 22 yards per kick return as a redshirt freshman, including a 93-yard touchdown at Boise State. No matter who gets the nod, it’s safe to assume the Bulldogs are in good hands in the return game.

The kicking game is much less proven, but looking strong. Redshirt freshman Kevin Goessling (5-10, 165) has a booming left leg comparable in power to Clint Stitser’s. The hope, though, is that Goessling will prove more accurate. After a so-so Spring Game, Goessling nailed 5 of 5 attempts in the first fall scrimmage, including a 53-yarder, but still has yet to face a real-life game situation. The Bulldogs also have some surprising depth with the emergence of walk-on Andrew Shapiro (6-1, 170). The right-footed Shapiro showed tremendous leg strength, and a quirky sense of humor, of his own in fall camp, and will be able to fill in at kicker or punter if needed. He’s also competing with Goessling for kickoff duties. Another walk-on will back those two up in redshirt freshman Stephen Ferdinandi (5-7, 165). Ferdinandi leg just isn't comparable to the other two kickers, so he'll have to work on his accuracy from mid-range to ever see playing time.

Atop the depth chart at punter is sophomore Robert Malone (6-2, 215), who does have some game experience. He started 2 games as a true freshman before going down with a season-ending injury, and then started last season before Kyle Zimmerman won the job. Malone had a career-long of 53 yards as a true freshman, but has struggled with consistency. If he can solve that part of the equation, watch out, because he showed as powerful a leg as any punter in school history during camp. Malone also returns as the holder on field goal attempts, but will have to adjust to working with a lefty this season.

The unit should also benefit a great deal from redshirt freshman holder Bobby Shepard (6-1, 235). He’s the first holder ever redshirted by Hill, a sign that Hill feels he can be a fixture on special teams for four years. He’s drawn comparisons to former Bulldog Kevin Murphy, who in four years as the starter never botched a snap. Senior tight end Bear Pascoe (6-5, 265) is the backup.

Rating: 9 of 10

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