Michigan Football Preview 2015

2015 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 119 of 163

118 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2015 FOOTBALL PREVIEW SPECIAL TEAMS BY CHRIS BALAS S pecial teams coach John Baxter has been around the block more than once during his 32-year coaching career. From Maryland to Maine, and south to Tulane, he honed his craft to eventually become one of the nation's most revered special teams coaches, first at Fresno State and then at USC. One thing he's never done, though, is study the Big Ten. After tak- ing a year off from coaching and doing a bit of traveling, he's eager to see what he can accomplish with a special teams unit that will be critical to Michigan's success in 2015. "What's hard for me to assess is the Big Ten," Baxter said. "I've never coached a down in this league. I don't really want to make bold predictions, because I'm not one of those guys, but here's what I can say … you can look at my history, look statistically at Fresno State and USC. The fact that the last kick return for touchdown here was Sept. 12, 2009, and the last punt return was Nov. 8, 2008, at Purdue … a lot of the kids on this team were in fifth grade when that hap- pened. "The most blocked punts they had in the last five years is one, and it happened three times. The last blocked field goal for touchdown was Sept. 20, 2003. I've never been associated with those kinds of numbers, that's all I'll say — and I don't plan to be associated with them very long." A man with his résumé has the right to exude such confidence. Fresno State blocked 84 kicks and punts (including a national-best 49 from 2002-09) and scored 39 special teams touchdowns (with three safeties) during Baxter's 13 years at the school. The Bulldogs HIGH EXPECTATIONS Special Teams Need To Be A Strength In 2015 QUICK FACTS Position Coach: John Baxter (first season). Returning Starter: LS Scott Sypniewski (12 career starts). Departing Starters: P Will Hagerup, PK Matt Wile Projected New Starters: PK Andrew David, P Blake O'Neill, PR/KR Jabrill Peppers. Top Reserves: P Kenny Allen, KR Jehu Chesson, K Kyle Seychel. Wait Until 2016: Allen. Newcomers: David, O'Neill. Moved In: None. Moved Out: None. Rookie Impact: David. Most Improved Player: Peppers. Best Pro Prospect: Peppers. FYI: David kicked a 58-yard field goal in high school. Former kicker Hayden Epstein owns the Michigan record with a 57-yard boot against Michigan State in 2001, and he also kicked a 56-yarder against Michigan State in 1999 …O'Neill joined the Weber State program in the summer of 2014 out of Melbourne, Australia, played in all 12 games for the Wildcats and finished the season sixth in the nation in punting, averaging 44.1 yards per punt. That ranks as the best single-season punting average in Weber State history and would have been second all-time at Michigan … Departing punter Will Hagerup has two of the three best averages (minimum 30 punts) in program history. His 2012 average of 45.0 yards per punt ranks No. 1 in school annals, and his 2010 average of 43.6 yards per punt ranks No. 3 (Zoltan Mesko's 2009 average of 44.5 yards per punt lists second) …Dennis Norfleet and Anthony Carter (1979-82) are the only two players who rank in the top five in career kickoff return yards who did not score a touchdown … Norfleet claimed the career program records for most returns and most return yardage last season (90 for 2,203) … Michigan scored one special teams touchdown last year, when linebacker Ben Gedeon returned a blocked punt 32 yards for a touchdown in a win over Appalachian State … Seychel's father, Chris, played hockey (1982-86) and baseball (1982-83) at Michigan … Head coach Jim Harbaugh reported David is the only player ever, at any position, to earn all-county first-team honors all four years of high school in Ohio's Stark County. Transfer Blake O'Neill punted 62 times with a 44.1-yard average for Weber State last year, including 18 punts of 50 yards or more. PHOTO COURTESY WEBER STATE

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