NASHVILLE --- The special teams unit is similar to the other groups throughout the Tennessee State football team, as they return key components from last year’s team. The team’s top kicker, Lane Clark, and punter, Austin Rowley, enter with experience under their belt.
Clark will return for his third season after scoring 50 points on 26-of-29 extra points and 8-of-14 field goals. The Hays, Kan. native is just one of 16 returning kickers in the nation who converted on a field goal of 50 yards or more in 2015. The junior split the uprights from 50 yards at Nissan Stadium versus Eastern Illinois.
Rowley returns after averaging 38.5 yards per punt, including seven of which traveled over 50 yards, in his first season as a Tiger. Redshirt-freshman Mitchell Boudreaux will provide depth and can be used in kickoffs, as a place kicker or in a punting role.
Local product Colby Green comes from Ensworth High School to TSU to provide more competition for the incumbents.
Coach Rod Reed has felt secure with his long snapping duties over the past eight years. Hunter Howard (2008-11) and Aaron Woods (2012-15) handled the position at a high level during that time period. Howard was a respected force who served as a team captain. Woods picked up where Howard left off converting all of his snaps during his career and was selected as a captain in his final season.
The Tigers will turn to freshman Thomas Newberg from Independence High School to fill the shoes of Woods and Howard, holding the spot for another four seasons.
Patrick Smith will once again be the primary returner for punts, while Gabe Scott and Marcus Deanes will be potential options on kickoffs for the second consecutive year. Incoming freshman Chris Rowland will be called upon to handle returning duties as well.
Redshirt-Freshman Kicker, Mitchell Boudreaux
- On the group
“Competition is a lot fiercer than it was last year. Now that we have more recruits, and it’s making us better. I can see everyone trying to make themselves better and trying to make the team better so when specialists need to make the big impact, we will.”
- On the readiness of the special teams
“It’s still the beginning of camp. We still have little tweaks to fix and everything. When it comes to game time, we will be game-focused and we will be ready.”
Freshman Long Snapper, Thomas Newberg
- On the progression of the special teams unit
“The difference coming from high school is mainly the intensity. It’s incredible. Watching all of these guys coming out here to work hard every day, it motivates us to take our game to the next level. Right now, we’re really just focusing on becoming a seamless unit. We really don’t want people to notice when we come onto the field, we just want to be another part of the game. We want to be the unit that the whole team can rely on so they know we can bail them out or we can come in and finish the job.”
Freshman Kicker, Colby Green
- On transitioning from high school to college
“I thought it would be a much bigger change. Being a kicker, you come out and it’s pretty much the same. We do our job. The only real difference is the amount of talent. It’s a lot of competition and it’s a lot of fun.”
- On having veterans to learn from
“It’s really nice, especially with Lane (Clark) and Austin (Rowley) here. They’ve been a really big help. They’ve been nothing but encouraging. They’re able to calm me down and just get me where I need to be.”