2022 Position Previews: Special Teams
The special teams play was often a bright spot during the otherwise largely middling Justin Fuente era. There were quite a few highlight moments including a number of well-designed fakes like the big one in the ACC Championship game.
Generally, James Shibest did a solid job up until things got ugly. The special teams unit bottomed out like most things last season ranking 125th out of 130 teams on punt return defense and 75th on kick return defense.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom though which gives Stu Holt a nice foundation to build on.
Peter Moore was outstanding in his first season as the punter. He finished 25th nationally with 44.5 yards per kick and led the ACC with 24 kicks of 50+ yards. Moore was also third in the conference with 23 punts downed inside the 20. His efforts earned him All-ACC Third team honors and Moore was named to The Athletic’s Freshman All-America team and is a preseason nominee for the Ray Guy Award.
College Football Reference lists Moore as tied with Brian Saunders for the best season average in Tech history. This chart lists them as tops among those with significant kicks for career average, a category comically led by Braxton Burmeister’s one kick for 51 yards.
There’s no question Tech has a valuable weapon with their punter. Maybe not an exciting statement, but it may prove big for a team that will need lots of breaks to go their way to have much success. Field position is always critical and Moore gives Tech a huge advantage there.
Tayvion Robinson also thrived in his role as the punt returner a year ago. He ranked fifth in the nation with 13.7 yards per return but his big-play ability is off to the SEC where he’ll do that kind of thing for Kentucky.
DJ Harvey has reportedly had a strong camp in the race to replace Robinson. The young Californian may also find himself in the two-deep at corner. Punt returner has a long line of success for the Hokies. Defensive backs like DeAngelo Hall and Greg Stroman have thrived in the role previously. Harvey has taken on a number of candidates for the current job including exciting receiver Da’Wain Lofton who is also poised to break out this season.
Keshawn King meanwhile has shown plenty of ability as a kick returner over the years. With the coaches looking to use him in different ways on offense, special teams is another way the speedy running back can contribute. He’s proven capable but as with anything with King, can his production be consistent?
King is said to be one of the few guys on the team who can hang speed wise with track star Cole Beck. That’s a tough thing to ignore. The Blacksburg legend Beck rejoined the football team in the offseason after focusing on track and may be able to find a role on special teams.
Chance Black has also worked on kickoffs and saw some time there towards the end of last season. He set a career-high with 146 return yards in the Pinstripe bowl so there’s plenty of ability there too.
Tech has managed to attract a number of kickers via transfer over the last few years. While unproven in college games, it's a talented group.
Redshirt junior Will Ross spent a season at Coastal Carolina and another at South Carolina before winding up in Blacksburg. He has been the first team kicker this offseason with freshman John Love mostly slotted in at No. 2.
Fellow transfer Zach Hoban from Rice is also in the mix. Don’t be surprised if Tech uses multiple kickers with one handling field goals/PATs and another taking on kickoffs.
Special teams as we all know can swing close games one way or another. Frank Beamer didn’t spend all those years pounding that concept home for nothing.
The Hokies have some real talent at the skill positions on special teams once again. That could be a big deal for a team that may well end up right on the cusp of bowl eligibility. Either way, expect this to be one of the units Brent Pry can lean on in his first season.