Offense puts fans in the stands. Defense wins championships. But when it comes to winning college football games, often times, special teams play is where a game is decided.
Interestingly, the Frontier Conference has always produced some outstanding special teams players, from speedy return men, to kickers and punters with booming legs, special teams is just as good to watch in the Frontier as it is at any level of football.
The Montana State University-Northern Lights return some outstanding special teams threats this season, headlined by two players who will be a threat to take kickoffs to the house every time they touch the ball. Senior Trevor Baum, who has moved to wide receiver this season, has been returning kicks for the last two years, while also serving as Northern’s punter. Baum will return kickoffs alongside sophomore Jake Messerly, who had moments of brilliance in the return game a year ago.
As for punt returns, that job is now open as Orin Johnson, an All-Conference returner, graduated last spring. Northern has several key athletes who can handle the punt return duties, including Messerly.
In the kicking game, Baum will once again do the punting for the Lights. In 2013, Baum averaged 28 yards per punt. Northern also returns place kicker Jordan Rueschhoff, who handles all of the kicking duties a season ago. Rueschhoff went 5-for-6 on field goals last season, while also making 33-of-35 point after attempts.
Here’s a look at the top returning special team’s players in the Frontier Conference
The top two kickers in the Frontier from a year ago return for another season. Rocky Mountain College’s Ryan Steska and Carroll College’s Connor Smith were All-Conference in 2013. Steska made 11-of-12 field goals last season, while Smith was a stellar 16-of-17.
Carroll is always strong in special teams, and the Fighting Saints should be again this fall. Alongside Smith, the Saints return All-Conference punter Rhys Felton, as well as return men Anthony Clarke and Jared Mayernik, both of whom were All-Conference in 2013.
Other kickers to watch include Montana Tech’s Matt Berg and Eastern Oregon’s Marc David. Both return for their junior campaigns after making eight field goals apiece last season.
Jace Billingsley doubled up on All-Conference honors a year ago for Eastern Oregon. As a freshman, Billingsley was a First-Team All-Conference wide receiver, but he was also a Second-Team punt returner. Others to watch this season in the return game include, Ryan and Matt Retzlaff from Southern Oregon, Collin Sale at UM-Western and Jayc VanZee a wide receiver for the Rocky Mountain College Bears.
Note: This is the final installment of the Havre Daily News’ breakdown of the top returning players in the Frontier Conference. For a look at the stadiums of the Frontier, as well as the Havre Daily News’ Preseason All-Conference Team, see next week’s HDN.