Here is yet another great piece from MajorMajors, this time discussing who we may see in Pitt’s Special Teams’ play in 2018.
“Well, Isn’t that Special?” — A Look at Pitt’s Special Team
My apologies to “The Church Lady,” but special teams are called “special” for a reason. You can win a game with a kickoff return; you can lose a game by giving up a punt return. You can win a game with a 50+ yard field goal; you can lose a game by missing a chip shot. We’ve done all of the above in the last few years.
Really though, we’ve been pretty hot on special teams lately, with some heroics from Chris Blewitt, Alex Kessman and Quadree Henderson. Where do we go from here?
Punter – Out with the Old; In with the New
Well, we lost a good one. Ryan Winslow was a first-team All-ACC selection last season. His average of 44.5 yards per punt topped the ACC, and he dropped 16 punts inside the 20. He was the only player to punt for Pitt last season.
We will miss Ryan’s punting, but what about his passing? Who can forget his TD pass to Nathan Bossory against Virginia Tech on the fake field goal – oops, sorry to bring that game up. And I didn’t realize it, but Ryan was our holder on placekicks for the last four years.
I still remember his critical pass completion on the fake punt at Syracuse in 2015. The pass went to Matt Galambos, of all people. Talk about catching the ‘Cuse by surprise. I remember thinking that, succeed or fail, I like this kind of gutsy call by this Narduzzi guy. Pitt ended up with Chris Blewitt kicking a game-winning field goal later in that drive.
Our new punter will be redshirt freshman Kirk Christodoulou (pronounced “christo-doo-lou”). Billy Hillgrove should have fun with that one. Kirk is from Melbourne Australia. And as a freshman, he was 20 years old.
His bio says he “worked with the renowned Prokick Australia program that has produced many successful collegiate and NFL punters…Prokick Australia’s “exports” include Pittsburgh Steelers punter Jordan Berry and all three 2016 Ray Guy Award finalists: winner Mitch Wishnowsky (Utah) as well as Michael Dickson (Texas) and Cameron Johnston (Ohio State). Well, sounds like Kirk had some good teachers.
I found some interesting information about Kirk in a Pitt News article from last season by Steve Rotstein. For example, Kirk knows Steeler Jordan Berry from their days in Australia “It’s great to have a friend,” Christodoulou said. “I’ve known him for a few years now, so, funny enough, moving halfway around the world, you end up having another Australian next door, so that’s pretty cool.”
More from the Pitt News article: “Kirk Christodoulou didn’t grow up around the same game as everybody else on the Pitt football team — to him, it’s called “footy.” He doesn’t say he’s going to go practice some punting — he’s going to “have a kick.” He wears cleats just like his teammates — but to him, they’re his “boots.”
“The first night I got here, I didn’t have any sheets or bedding or anything, so I slept on just a plain mattress with a jacket. So then the next day I sent [Jordan Berry] a text, I was like, ‘Jordan, please take me to get some sheets. I’m freezing,’” Christodoulou said. “So we went to Walmart and Target and bought some pillows and stuff so at least I’m a bit more comfy.”
Hmmm. That doesn’t reflect so well on Pitt’s athletic department – we need to do a better job welcoming our next Australian recruit!
So how did Pitt learn about our Australian punter? Turns out Coach Powell is friends with the guys who run ProKick Australia and gave them a call.
In last year’s spring game, Kirk punted six times and averaged 39 yards with a long of 49 yards. Will be interesting to see if Kirk Christodoulou is ready for the pressure spot of being the No. 1 punter on the team. G’day, mate!
Place Kicker – A Promising Kicker Returns
Redshirt sophomore Alex Kessman, 6-3, 190#, returns as Pitt’s placekicker and kickoff man. Alex showed a lot of promise in his first year of college kicking. As a redshirt freshman last season, Kessman converted 34-of-34 PATs and 11-of-19 field goals (58%) for a team-high 67 points. (For comparison, as a senior, Chris Blewitt made 10 of 17 FGs, but with Pitt’s amazing offense that season, Chris made 66 of 69 PATs for a total of 96 points.)
Alex kicked a 56-yard field goal at Syracuse, tying the Pitt school record and breaking the Carrier Dome mark. Looks like Kessman should have gone to Syracuse as he also made kicks from 49 and 42 yards that day. Not a bad day at the Dome.
The 56 yarder tied Chris Blewitt’s 56-yarder against GT for the school record.
Oddly enough, Kessman had a 55-yarder last season against GT. (GT fans have to be going out of their minds with the long, and crucial, field goals Pitt has made against them lately.) And by the way, Kessman also kicked a 56 yarder in high school, where he also averaged 40 yards per punt.
On kickoffs last season, Kessman had 29 touchbacks on 58 kicks, or a 50% rate.
I thought Alex did quite well last season for a first year kicker, but his stats could have been even better. I remember him having several FGs where he seemed to hit the ball well, but he missed it just a bit to the right. Hopefully he can make an adjustment and be more accurate going forward.
Something to tuck into the back of your mind now that Winslow is gone, Kessman played some QB in high school.
Our backup placekicker will be redshirt freshman walk-on Jake Scarton. As a senior in HS, he converted 66 extra points and 6 field goals; his longest FG was a 46 yarder.
Return of the Long Snapper!
Pitt’s long snapper will be sophomore Cal Adomitis, 6-1, 210 pounds. He won the job last season as a true freshman, snapping for both punts and placekicks. Cal also played TE for Central Catholic.
Who Will Hold the Bloody Ball?
This is certainly a little appreciated position, but crucial to success on any place kicks. I presume that Pitt will try Kirk Christodoulou as the holder, like they used Ryan Winslow, who seemed go do a very good job. Or maybe we see Ricky Town in this spot to give us some better fake options? Tryouts this spring.
Who Will Return Kickoffs and Punts?
Obviously, we suffered a big-time loss with the early departure of Quadree Henderson. I suspect spring ball is going to be a long tryout for kick returners. Could this be where we see an impact from Paris Ford?
Here are some candidates that I see:
–Rafael Ra-Ra Lopes – has returned three kickoffs two seasons ago and returned one punt for 20 yards last season; has surprising speed.
–Paris Ford – elite athlete; would be a good way for him to have an impact as he learns the safety position.
–Shocky Jacques-Louis – sounds like a guy built for returning kicks.
–Maurice Ffrench – has good speed; returned two kickoffs last season.
–Tre Tipton – not sure he has the flat-out speed you’d like in a kick returner but he has good hands; might be a guy for punt returns or when you expect a fair catch.
–Michael Smith – this is just a wild guess, because he seems to be a good athlete with speed.
–Jazzee Stocker – I only have him on here because I was surprised to see on the stat sheet that Jazzee returned a punt for 66 yards last season. Don’t remember that one.
Other candidates in the fall might be one of the freshmen cornerbacks. They appear to have a lot of quickness. I’m thinking specifically of V’lique Carter and Marquis Williams. And I suppose another candidate in the fall will be speedy freshman running back Mychale Salahuddin.
I’m guessing the first three in the above list, Lopes, Ford, and Jacques-Louis have the best chance to win the return jobs.
Special teams don’t get as much attention, but we keep getting reminded that they are one-third of the game. We were treated to some great special team play in the last couple years with Quadree Henderson’s kick returns and with our placekickers making some crucial, and perhaps against-the-odds, long field goals.
We have a young crop of guys now – the biggest question mark is unknown Aussie punter Kirk Christodoulou. Hopefully he can follow in the footsteps of those other ProKick Australia punters.
You’d think Alex Kessman would have more confidence after a pretty good performance as a redshirt freshman last season. And our long snapper, Cal Adomitis is only going to be a Sophomore.
I’ll be curious to hear who POV commenters think will be the kickoff and punt returners.