The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

August 8, 2013

WVU seeks new punter and kicker

By Cam Huffman
Sports Editor

— Anybody who’s followed West Virginia University football at all this summer knows about the quarterback battle with Paul Millard, Ford Childress and Clint Trickett. Most are aware of the loaded backfield and the fight for carries at running back.

But some of the most important position battles may be the ones that often go unnoticed — the specialists.

WVU will enter the 2013 season looking for a new punter and new kickers to handle those critical duties after losing Tyler Bitancurt, who handled punts and field goals, and Corey Smith, who handled most of the kickoffs, to graduation.

“It’s like any other position,” said special teams coordinator Joe DeForest. “We have a kicker, a punter, a snapper, a holder and a kickoff. So there are five positions you’re trying to fill. You do individual drills with them for each specific position. It’s no different than any other position. You just rep, you chart things — whether it be snap time, field goal time, those types of things.”

The frontrunner for the place kicking duties appears to be Josh Lambert, a redshirt-freshman from Garland, Texas. He converted 49 of 52 extra points, made 9 of 16 field goals — with a long of 51 yards — and had 15 touchbacks on kickoffs as a senior at Garland High School in 2011.

 After a year in the program to watch how things work, he’s expected to step in and contribute.

“I learned about being mentally strong and how the next kick is the most important,” he said of his redshirt season. “It’s about staying consistent and kicking the same ball, whether it’s a 50-yard field goal or an extra point. It’s about staying consistent.

“My job is the same, whether someone else is there or not.”

Michael Molinari, a redshirt-junior from Parkersburg who was the team’s holder on field goals and extra points last year, and Nick O’Toole, a junior college transfer who averaged 42 yards per punt at Fullerton Community College, are in a battle for the punting duties, along with Shady Spring graduate Houstin Syvertson, a talented walk-on built more like a linebacker than a punter.

“For a newcomer, it is different,” said DeForest. “Whoever is going to kick or punt for us is going to be a newcomer. You can’t simulate game situations or atmospheres, so we’re going to try to do the best we can during practice to simulate as volatile a crowd as we can get.”

Those battles, though, aren’t the only ones on which DeForest is focusing his attention. Many forget, he said, that special teams go far beyond the guys with the ball on their feet.

“There are 88 spots to fill in the big four — punt, punt return, kickoff and kickoff return,” said DeForest. “With two deep at each one, that’s 88 spots. What you have to do is evaluate guys during the special team period, as well as on defense. We see how they move around and evaluate if they can play in space.”

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WVU basketball coach Bob Huggins and his wife, June, opened up their checkbook Wednesday, donating  $100,000 to the West Virginia University College of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences. The money will be used to create an endowment for undergraduate athletic coaching education students and provide for a new building to house the college. That building is already under construction.

“We are most appreciative of Bob and June’s leadership efforts,” said WVU CPASS dean Dana Brooks. “Their gift will have a long-lasting impact within the college.”

Huggins, a Morgantown native, graduated magna cum laude from the WVU College of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences in 1977 and received a master’s in health administration in 1978. He was a three-year letterman for the Mountaineer basketball team.

“West Virginia University is a special place to me, because of the opportunities it has provided me,” said Huggins. “I’ve always wanted to be at WVU since I was a little kid. Morgantown, the entire state and this University have always meant so much to me and my family, and June and I are happy to give back.”

Huggins, who came back to WVU as the head coach in April of 2007, has won 133 games and taken his team to five NCAA Tournament appearances in his six seasons back at his alma mater. Overall, he’s won 723 games as a collegiate head coach.

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The Big 12 released the eight dates that its teams will be featured on ESPN’s Big Monday in 2014, and the Mountaineers were nowhere on the list.

WVU played three Big Monday contests a year ago, but after the Mountaineers finished a disappointing 13-19 in their first season in the Big 12, the network chose not to feature WVU in its prime spot this season. Kansas will be featured four times, as will Oklahoma State. Kansas State will play a pair of Big Monday matchups, as will Oklahoma. The schedule tips off with Kansas at Iowa State on Jan. 13.

— E-mail: chuffman@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.