By Dalton Ray–
Our offensive breakdown is finished and the third facet of football is our focus this week. Often the difference maker in close games, Louisville has promise with special teams.
Kickers- Blanton Creque and Evan O’Hara
Creque and O’Hara both earned time last season, but Creque pulled away towards the end of the season. The redshirt sophomore knocked in 16-of-19 field goals last season with his longest of 47 yards.
Creque tied a school record going 4-for-4 against NC State. The Collins High School grad also had eight touchbacks as a kick-off specialist last season.
O’Hara went 3-for-6 in 2016.
Punters- Mason King and Austin Johnson
Both punters are local talents from private schools — King from St. X and Johnson from Desales.
King took the starting role and ran with it last season. His 43.9 yards per punt average set a school record in his first year on the field. Of his 55 punts, 27 were fair caught, limiting returns for U of L’s opponents. He received 22 All-ACC votes this preseason.
Johnson faces a tough battle to unseat King. Ranked the fifth best punter in the 2016 class by Scout.com, Johnson started at quarterback, punter and kickers as a junior and senior.
Return specialists- Jaire Alexander, Russ Yeast, Keion Wakefield, Traveon Samuel, Malik Williams and Cornelius Sturghill
Alexander is an extremely explosive player that locked down the punt return position last season. Pulling in 19 punts, he averaged 10.3 yards a return with one touchdown.
Wakefield, a redshirt freshman, is the darkhorse return man that could see the field. One of the state’s most dangerous return men at Male, Wakefield had six punt return touchdowns in his high school career.
A four-star athlete from Indiana, Yeast played multiple positions was a standout at each. His speed and quickness made him a handful to bring down in open space.
Williams (22.5 yard average) fielded 14 kick-offs last year while Samuel took 11 kick-offs with a 17.3 yard average.
Sturghill is one of the fastest players on the team and is coming off a season-ending injury in 2016. The Cardinal need explosiveness from their kick return unit and Sturghill could provide that.
Long snappers- Ryan Betlach, Brendan Lowery, Kyle Goss and Mitch Hall
Losing Colin Holba to the NFL Draft, Louisville turns to Hall — a freshmen Under Armour All-American. ESPN’s sixth-ranked long snapper, Hall comes in from Clayton, North Carolina.
If Hall isn’t the answer, the Cardinals will likely turn to junior Betlach from Lexington’s Tate Creek High School.
Photo by Dalton Ray / The Louisville Cardinal