“I’ve seen too many games won or lost with special teams. On offense you run a play for zero yards, and you get up and do it again. On defense you can give up five yards, and you get up and do it again. But with special teams play, you get one shot. You don’t get second chances. You have one chance to do it, or one chance to defend it. It can change the complexity of the game so readily.” –Bill Snyder
This is a quote from legendary head coach, Bill Snyder. These are a few profound words of wisdom for those who don’t recognize the value of the special teams positions. The special teams are labeled as “special” for a reason. The job that they take on during a weekly basis is at times, truly spectacular.
The 2014 Colorado football special teams unit will be almost identical to the group from a year before. With the only difference in the starting rotation taking place at long snapper, there will be some proven talent at each position. The Buffaloes will look to live up to Snyder’s words come August 30th.
Kicker- Will Oliver (5-foot-11, 190-pounds, Senior)
Oliver enters the season as the favorite to start at placekicker. The senior has survived through some tough seasons in Colorado, but has produced despite. Throughout his collegiate career, he’s hit 34 of 48 field goal attempts, with a long of 53 yards. In three seasons and 35 games played, he sits at just over 70% accuracy. He has only missed two PAT’s in three seasons and is perfect dating back to halfway through his freshman year. Oliver ranks in the top 30 in scoring and the top 10 for kick scoring in Colorado history. Look for him to finish off his solid career with a strong season in 2014.
Kick Off Specialist-Will Oliver (5-foot-11, 190-pounds, Senior)
I’ll keep this short and sweet. Oliver has quite the leg and usually pins the opponent within their 30-yard line. A year ago he kicked off 56 times, with only 29 of them being returned. He notched 26 touchbacks and should continue to produce at such levels in his senior season.
Punter-Darragh O’Neill (6-foot-2, 190-pounds, Senior)
Unfortunately for the Buffaloes, it seemed as though O’Neill was the busiest player on the team last season. That being said, the senior punter has had a great career at Colorado and ranks as one of the best in the nation. In the 2013 season, O’Neill played in every game and booted away 66 punts. He averaged just around 40 yards per punt, with a long of 56 yards. He was consistently accurate, pinning the opposing offense within their 20-yard line 22 out of his 66 punts. O’Neill had seven punts over 50 yards, while only getting one blocked all season. He is considered a top candidate for the Ray Guy Award, bestowed to the nation’s best kicker. The best part about O’Neill? The kid can punt with either foot. It will be no surprise to see O’Neill finish his career at Colorado with another remarkable season in 2014.
Punt Returner-Nelson Spruce (6-foot-1, 195-pounds, Junior)
As I mentioned in the Buffaloes’ wide receiver preview, Nelson Spruce will be a valuable asset in the Buffaloes’ special teams game plan. The junior speedster has proven to be a decent receiver and a more than capable return man. In 2013, Spruce saw action in all 12 games as a special teams player. He returned nine punts and two kickoffs. The highlight of Spruce’s season, and maybe the Colorado special teams season as a whole, came against California. Spruce recovered on onside kick late in the game. Not only did he snag the ball out of the air, but also he was able to break free and return it for a 46-yard touchdown return. Spruce will look to continue establishing his special teams game alongside his receiving game.
Kick Returner-Ryan Severson (5-foot-10, 200-pounds, Sophomore)
Severson should begin the 2014 season atop the depth chart at kick returner. In 2013, Severson saw the field in 11 games, with a majority of his action coming in the return game. He returned 36 kickoffs for 795 yards, an average of 22.1 yards per return. Although Spruce was the only returner with a touchdown, Severson made his mark by consistently getting the ball out past his 20-yard line. As he goes into his sophomore year, he’ll get the chance to evolve his return game. The small bulky returner should increase almost all those numbers by season’s end.
Long Snapper-Wyatt Tucker Smith (6-foot-2, 235-pounds, Junior)
The junior college transfer out of Mississippi will see the long snapper start in 2014. He’ll replace departed senior Ryan Iverson at the position. He should have no troubles transitioning to the D1 level, as he is ranked as the second best long snapper in the nation. The Buffaloes brought him on board because he possesses all the intangibles of a great long snapper. He has the size, strength, footwork, and discipline to play the position at a high level. He’ll be backed by a redshirt freshman in Chris Hill, so the job will be his to lose.
Keep an eye on: Kicker- Diego Gonzalez (5-foot-11, 205-pounds, Sophomore)
Although he may not see the field this upcoming season, Gonzalez is worth keeping an eye on down the road. The international transfer from Mexico was redshirted last season and will have three more years of eligibility to earn the starting job once Oliver leaves. He is a highly touted kicker who is still refining his game.