Special teams always seems to play a key role in the outcome of college football games. And at MSU-Northern, building solid special team’s units is a big part of the preparation for the upcoming 2011 season.
One thing Northern seems to have a lot of this season is speed, and that should serve the Lights well in the return game. But MSU-N has also focused in on its speciality positions, and the Lights are hoping for a very solid year in that respect.
Here’s a look at the Lights on special teams as they prepare for their season-opening game with UM-Western.
For years now, the Lights have been solid in the kicking game despite position players manning those jobs. For the last few seasons, wide receiver Kyle Kercher handled the kicking duties and before that it was defensive back Luke McKinley. Players like star defensive end Will Andrews have also been great punters for Northern. But this season, the Lights will have a true kicker in junior college transfer Juan Garcia. Garcia has a strong league and appears to be very accurate on field goals. He’s also capable of handling the punting duties although Northern head coach Mark Samson said Andrews will continue to punt some as well.
“Juan is a very good kicker,” Samson said. “We were fortunate to get him with the graduation of Kercher. But he’s also a great kid and this team has really welcomed him in. It’s been great to see and I think he’ll do a really good job for us.”
In the return game, the Lights possess two key things – speed and experience. Northern’s Stephen Silva is a former all-conference kick returner and he’ll once again handle those duties this season. Silva will be joined in kickoffs possibly by newcomer Kyle Johnston, as well as Orin Johnson and maybe one other speedster.
On punt returns, the Lights graduated a great one in Matt Stuart, but Johnson fielded several punts a year ago, and he’ll be back there again this season. Johnston will also get a look as a punt returner this season.
“We have really good speed,” Samson said. “And I think we have some kids that can make plays in the return game because of how smart they are. We have several guys who have a pretty good feel for it.
“As a whole, we have some good athletes on special teams and we want to be very solid in all phases,” he added. “Hopefully we can be that this season because we all know how important special teams are in this game.