Throughout training camp we will be providing position by position breakdowns of the Flames’ 2017 roster. We kick off (bad pun, I know) this series with a look at the special teams unit lead by Liberty’s 2nd year Special Teams Coordinator Scott Downing.
This group swept the 2017 Big South’s preseason all-conference selections when kicker Alex Probert, punter Trey Turner,
K #10 Alex Probert Sophomore 5’9″ 170 Andover, MN
K/P #13 Aidan Alves Freshman 6’1″ 210 Dillsburg, PA
P #35 Trey Turner R-Senior 5’11” 210 Rome, GA
LS #57 Hunter Winstead R-Senior 6’0″ 240 Raleigh, NC
LS #51 Austin Mock Freshman 6’3″ 220 Lynchburg, VA
H #35 Trey Turner R-Senior 5’11” 210 Rome, GA
H #16 Spencer Jones Sophomore 6’3″ 185 Nashville, TN
H #4 Mason Cunningham Sophomore 6’0″ 190 Shelbyville, TN
long snapper Hunter Winstead, and returner Frankie Hickson all received the nominee. Coach Downing highlighted the experience the special teams unit has this season, not just at the main positions of kicker, punter, snapper, holder, and returner, but also the other positions that make up the various special teams’ units. In what has been Liberty’s Achilles’ heel during much of Coach Gill’s tenure, special teams should be a team strength this season.
Just one year ago, the Flames were having to replace John Lunsford, the FCS career leader in made field goals of 50 yards or more. While much was expected of true freshman Alex Probert, he was still a true freshman seeking to fill very large shoes. Now, he’s coming off a first-team All Big South campaign as a true freshman when he connected on 15 of his 19 field goals.
Probert says the mental aspect of his game has been what he’s focused on the most since the conclusion of the 2016 season. “I’ve been working a lot on my breathing before the kick, and just walk out on the field and say a quick prayer, a few words to God. I’m relaxed versus my freshman year walking out at Virginia Tech, I was a little bit rattled in my head. I didn’t have that correct mindset down. I didn’t really know what to expect going out there. Now, when I walk out on the field, I’m not saying, ‘don’t miss this.’ I’m saying, ‘you’ve prepared for this kick, you’ve put the work in for it, now just do what you’ve practiced.'”
Turner returns as a redshirt-senior captain at punter. This will be his 4th and final season as Liberty’s punter, and he has been very successful in his first 3 years. He’s been named first or second All-Big South in each of his first 3 years as he’s averaged right at 41 yards per punt during his career.
Turner has also been the team’s holder and will likely remain in that role this season. Spencer Jones and Mason Cunningham will also get their opportunity during camp at holder. Coach Downing says he likes the fact that Jones and Probert are both sophomores as they could develop some chemistry at the holder and kicker position throughout their careers.
Frankie Hickson had one of the best individual seasons as a kick returner in program history last year as he finished the season with 707 total kickoff return yards, good enough for the second most in program history. He also set a school record for the longest kickoff return for a touchdown with a 99 yard touchdown return at Kennesaw State. Hickson averaged 25.2 yards per kickoff return which was second in the Big South and 20th in the nation.
At punt returner, wide receivers Damian King and B.J. Farrow were the top 2 returners a season ago, albeit for a combined total of just 104 yards on 13 returns.