Special Teams

Previous previews … Quarterbacks … Running Backs … Wide Receivers … Offensive Linemen … Defensive Linemen … Linebackers … Defensive Backs


— Seniors: Chris Graham (K)

— Juniors: Alex Kinney (P)

— Sophomores: J.T. Bale (LS); Davis Price (K); Nick Porter (K); Taylor Wagner (K); Thad Gleason (LS)

— Red-shirt freshman: None

— True freshman: James Stefanou (K); Devin Noth (LS)

— bold (returning starter) … italicized (walk-on) … CB (cornerback) … S (safety/Buff back)

By the Numbers (2016 statistics):

— Chris Graham … 10-14 field goal attempts … long of 46 … misses from 40, 42, 28, 36 (one blocked)

Davis Price … 4-6 field goal attempts … long of 54 … misses from 42, 33

— Alex Kinney … 66 punts for 2,723 yards (41.26 average) … long of 59 … 15 inside 20-yard line … one blocked … 35.4 net average

Isaiah Oliver … 14 punt returns for 164 yards … 11.7 yard average … one touchdown (68 yards v. UCLA)

— Jay MacIntyre … 17 punt returns for 152 yards … 8.9 yard average

— Anthony Julmisse … (suspended) … 17 kickoff returns for 384 yards … 22.6 yard average

Reasons to be excited:

CU has options in the kicking game

Another year older … another year better?

Chris Graham connected on 10 of his 14 field goal attempts last fall (and seven of his last eight, with the only miss being a kick which was blocked). Graham’s 71.4% success rate was a step up from the 62.1% Diego Gonzalez hit in 2015 (18-of-29), but his contribution was largely unnoticed.

There were no game-winning field goals … no spectacular connections … Graham didn’t even attempt a field goal over 50 yards all season.

Graham is now a senior, and he was one of two recipients of the Bill McCartney Award as selected by the coaching staff for the most improved special teams player during spring ball.

And if Graham hasn’t taken a step forward?

Well, there is Davis Price.

Sharing duties with Graham last season, Price, now a sophomore, was four-of-six on field goal attempts, connecting on 26-of-27 PAT’s.

Or there is the 30-year old freshman, James Stefanou, from Melbourne, Australia.

Stefanou trained periodically over the course of the past six seasons at ProKick Australia, an academy developed to assist in the transition to American football by providing the fundamentals of punting and kicking. Alumni of the academy include the last four Ray Guy Award winners; Tom Hornsey of Memphis in 2013, Tom Hackett of Utah in 2014 and 2015 and Mitch Wishnowsky of Utah in 2016.

Colorado does not have any star place kickers on the roster …

… but the Buffs do have options.


The CU return game could become an exciting part of the Buff arsenal 

The Colorado kick return game has not been a weapon in the past decade.

In 2016, Colorado was 39th in the nation in punt returns, with 31 returns for 316 yards.

In 2016, Colorado was 32nd in the nation in kick returns, with 21 returns for 484 yards.

Not bad, and certainly a step up from year’s past, when having Nelson Spruce offer a fair catch was seen as a positive result.

Last season, Isaiah Oliver was a premier punt returner, with two long returns against UCLA, including a 68-yarder for a fourth quarter touchdown, providing much of the Buffs’ offense in a 20-10 victory.

It may turn out that Oliver, CU’s No. 1 cornerback, will not be used for punt returns.  If Oliver is to be replaced, there are numerous options.

There are a number of young wide receivers, including incoming freshmen speedsters KD Nixon and Laviska Shenault, along with young defensive backs like Ronnie Blackmon and Trey Udoffia who are looking to find their way onto the field of play.

CU’s leading kick returner from last season, Anthony Julmisse, has been suspended from the team after being arrested on assault charges. Even if Julmisse returns, he, like Oliver, may be too valuable at defensive back to be used again as a kick returner.

But, as with the punt return game, there are plenty of options.


Reasons for concern:

— Where have you gone, Mason Crosby? 

Mason Crosby was a sixth round pick in the 2007 NFL draft by the Green Bay Packers. After ten seasons in the NFL, Crosby has established himself as one of the premier kickers in the league, and is the all-time leading scorer in the storied history of the Green Bay Packers.

Mason Crosby is 32 years old.

CU’s new hope at kicker is true freshman James Stefanou.

James Stefanou is 30 years old.

Whatever happened to Boulder being a haven for kickers and punters? A place where a Buff routinely led the conference in punting and long distance field goals, and was often on the short list for major national awards?

From Barry Helton in the mid-1980’s to Crosby in the mid-2000’s, Colorado attracted some powerful kickers and punters.

The roster now?

Diego Gonzalez, an experiment from Mexico, never really worked out … so the CU coaching staff is trying a long shot option, this time from Australia?



— When will CU deem special teams worthy of a designated coach?  

While not perhaps a full third of the collegiate game, special teams can take on as much importance in a game as offense and defense.

Why, then, is there no designated special teams coach at Colorado?

Mike MacIntyre has tried the “coaching by committee” approach, with decidedly mixed results. The thought is that, when a tenth assistant coaching position is made available after this season, that Colorado will have its full time special teams coach.

Until then, Buff fans will have to wait … and hope.

Bottom Line … 

When CU’s return units take the field, either for kickoffs or punt, there is reason for Buff fans to be excited.

There are plenty of fast wide receivers and defensive backs on the roster who can become game changers, even if the leading punt and kickoff returners from last year do not fulfill the same roles as before.

When the Buffs go into punt formation, or line up for a field goal attempt, however, there is less confidence.

The Colorado kicking game is still very much a work in progress, and the Buff Nation will have to wait and see which of the three candidates for the field goal position emerges.

“I think our special teams will be definitely improved if our kickers come through like I think they will,” MacIntyre said. “That didn’t really hurt us last year, but it could have. You can’t go two years in a row thinking that won’t (hurt you).”

Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

As for punting … it’s Alex Kinney again. Colorado was 118th in the nation in net punting last year, yet has no other full-time punter on the roster other than Kinney.

Hit and hope.

That’s how I approach my golf game.

But at a school which produced kickers like Mason Crosby, Will Oliver, Jeremy Aldrich, and punters like Barry Helton, Keith English, and Mitch Berger … hit and hope should not be considered adequate.


2 Replies to “CU Preview – Special teams”

  1. Maybe this kid (?) from Australia will be a game changer. Even though no American football experience, being 30 (I hope) will mean that he should have some mental maturity over an 18 year old and be able to handle pressure a little better. Haven’t some serious kickers come from the program that he has graduated? from? Looking for a lot of touchbacks this season. I guess we’ll find out soon enough…

    Go Buffs

  2. Hopefully this is the year special teams
    Contributes to the success of the mighty Buffs

    Bout time eh?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *