In the flurry of college football preseason activities, one event that always catches the eyes of any fan is the unveiling of the various award watch lists.
From quarterbacks to lineman, each position has an award, and the watch lists give fans an idea of which players could be in the running for personal recognition that season.
Ohio State is one of many schools that have multiple players listed, but this year some of the Buckeye players took it upon themselves to give another teammate some publicity.
Bryce Haynes is the Buckeyes’ redshirt-junior long snapper, arguably the least talked about position in all of college football. But once his teammate, sophomore punter Cameron Johnston, was named to the watch list for this season’s Ray Guy Award, which recognizes the nation’s best punter, Johnston and a few others decided to invent an award for Haynes.
“Cameron got on the Ray Guy Award watch list and we thought ‘We’ve got to have something for Bryce,’” redshirt-senior kicker Kyle Clinton said. “So that’s when we came up with it.”
Johnston, freshman kicker Sean Nuernberger and sophomore long snapper Aaron Mawhirter then invented the Roscoe Foster Award for the nation’s best long snapper. They even tweeted out a photo-shopped image of Haynes with the fake award at the bottom.
“A lot of people believed it. They got guys to retweet it,” Haynes said. “It’s pretty dang funny.”
The prank is typical of the close-knit group of special teamers, but as the 2014 season approaches for OSU, the kicking and punting units will have to bring their strong bonds together if they’re to help the Buckeyes win.
For starters, OSU will have to replace kicker Drew Basil who, among other accomplishments, set the school single-season record in field goal percentage last year at 90 percent. The battle is between the veteran Clinton and Nuernberger, with coach Urban Meyer singling out the latter during the team’s media day on Sunday.
“I really like him. He’s actually a pretty good punter, too,” Meyer said. “We haven’t named (him) the kicker yet, but he’s a really talented guy.”
Special teams coordinator Kerry Coombs was also complimentary of Nuernberger’s skill set, but warned that he needs experience to get the most out of his ability.
“He hasn’t walked out there in front of 110,000 people and kicked the ball yet,” Coombs said. “We try to do everything we can to put him under intense pressure in practice…so he feels that at least, so his heart feels that before he steps out there,”
Nuernberger, for his part, knows he needs to get more comfortable in such his position. He trained with the team in the spring and even played in the spring game to get more acclimated with the flow of the program.
“Coming into the spring game I think the biggest crowd I had in high school was a couple thousand, so that was really good (practice),” Nuernberger said. “(My first game) will be a little nerve-wracking, but it’ll be good.”
But whether it’s one or the other, Coombs seems confident in the unit’s ability to score points.
“(Clinton), on the other hand, is a mature player, he’s been around the bend. He’s also a gifted kicker,” Coombs said. “So we feel very good about that position. I think we’re going to be very effective there. As you guys know, it’s not our mission to score to kick a lot of field goal; it’s to score touchdowns. But when called upon, they will be ready.”
When it comes to punting, the reigns are completely controlled by Johnston. Last year was the Australian’s first-ever time playing football, and yet he still managed to lead the Big Ten in punt average.
Johnston said he’s excited for the new season, citing his off-season preparation as the starting point to bigger and better things.
“When I went back (to Australia) I was able to train with my coach Nathan Chapman and it was great, it was good to get back,” Johnston said. “(I’m) feeling comfortable now, feeling confident and just trying to build on the second half of last year.”
Although the players’ expectations of themselves is as big as their coaches, that doesn’t mean they take themselves too seriously. Their routines can sometimes be quite different from the rest of the team, and Haynes said that gives them some license to share a few jokes.
“We play a lot of pranks on each other, on other teammates,” Haynes said. “Because we get a little more free time than other guys, we have a lot of time to think of funny things to do and keep everybody smiling.”
While not considered the most physically demanding position, Haynes said it is important for special teamers to keep a level head on the field.
“You can’t be uptight and go out there and perform well. You’ve got stay loose and that’s really what’s going to help, especially us,” Haynes said. “It’s all mental, we’ve just got to be able to lock in when it’s important and stay loose other than that during the game.”
Much of OSU’s success this season could depend on just how relaxed players like Nuernberger, Johnston and Clinton can be when the game is on the line.
The Buckeyes are scheduled to open their season Aug. 30 against Navy at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. Kickoff is set for noon.
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