Special teams position profile: App State understands importance of strong special teams


App State’s special teams unit lines up for the opening kickoff of App State’s 42-7 win over ETSU on Aug. 31. // Photo courtesy of App State Athletics

Franklin Bogle, Sports Reporter

Special teams is often overlooked on the football field. Most people believe games are won and lost by offense and defense, disregarding special teams. But, special teams sets good teams apart from the rest.

“We have to win the game in three phases: offense, defense and special teams,” senior defensive back Josh Thomas said. “We have a new saying, “one for 11.” One plays for the 11, so that 11 play as one, and that starts on special teams.”

Last year, the Mountaineers scored four special teams touchdowns in the first three games, including a 100 yard kickoff return for a touchdown by now-junior Darrynton Evans against Penn State. App State was the most successful team in the Sun Belt on special teams last year. That showed in the Sun Belt championship game against Louisiana when Evans set up a touchdown with a 97-yard return, along with junior defensive linemen Caleb Spurlin recovering a fumble during a punt to set up another App State score.

New App State coach Eliah Drinkwitz understands special teams needs to continue the same excellence this year if the Mountaineers want to compete at the same level. 

“We are always trying to score and that starts with stopping them on defense and then creating plays on special teams, and that’s what we have to do to set our offense up in the best position to score,” Drinkwitz said. 

This year, App State has a new special teams coach coordinator, Erik Link, who was hired by Drinkwitz. Link inherits many returners on the special teams roster. Junior kicker Chandler Staton, who has made 20 of 25 field goals in his career, returns. Staton has made all 98 of his point after attempts, tied for second longest streak in App State history. Sophomore punter Clayton Howell also returns after a successful freshman campaign, averaging nearly 43 yards per punt last season.

App State returns all of its kick and punt returners, aside from former All American returner Clifton Duck, who left school a year early to head to the NFL draft. Link understands he has talent on his special teams roster, and knows how important it is that his unit succeeds. 

“We’re just really trying to emphasize the importance of it, bringing great energy and effort, being the most exciting team to be on the field and then executing at a high level in everything that we’re doing,” Link told AppStateSports.com.

If App State can continue its 2018 special teams excellence in 2019, they have the potential to not only remain atop the Sun Belt, but also compete with Power Five opponents UNC and South Carolina.