The ACC Kickoff (aka media days) is fast approaching. I’ll be using the blog to count down to what we media members consider the unofficial start of the football season. This isn’t a list of the 25 best players on Virginia Tech’s roster. It’s a list of 25 things/people that will determine whether the Hokies’ 2012 season is a success or not. That includes players and coaches from both Virginia Tech and, occasionally, a few of its opponents.
A second post today gets us back on track counting down the days until the ACC media days begin.
No. 23: Pick a punter
There was a reason Frank Beamer called on wide receiver Danny Coale late last season to handle the punting duties, and it had more to do with just the senior’s surprising ability to regularly loft booming kicks from the back of the end zone.
The Hokies’ other punters weren’t just struggling. They were struggling at a historical rate.
Virginia Tech ranked last in the ACC and 108th nationally in net punting last season, averaging 33.62 yards per punt, nearly five yards less than its 2010 average. Looking simply at yards per punt (before a return), the Hokies’ 36.7-yard average was their lowest since 2000, the first time they haven’t averaged at least 39 yards per punt since 2002 and nearly 12 yards off of their 2010 total.
So yes, something was off the mark last year.
Fast forward to 2012 and it’s not clear if there are any remedies to the situation. Coale, a do-it-all fail-safe, isn’t around to bail out the punting game anymore.
Last year’s primary punters, sophomore Michael Branthover (36.6 avg.) and senior Scott Demler (33.1 avg.) are back. They were joined in the competition this spring by sophomores Ethan Keyserling and Conor Goulding and anybody who wanted to give it a try, although no one distinguished himself (Branthover can probably be considered the leader at this point).
Two freshmen walk-ons will join the team this summer — A.J. Hughes from Terre Haute, Ind., and Hunter Windmuller from Oakton. Both will undoubtedly get their chance to impress the coaches in August.
Beamer recognized how dire the punting situation was last year — that’s why he turned to Coale — and the coach took particular interest in fixing the punting game this spring, watching carefully over the shoulders of each player as he kicked during stretches of practice.
The Hokies might not have their answer at punter yet, but they’re certainly not short on bodies. Beamer has to hope that through that competition he can find someone who can consistently get the ball out there, otherwise Virginia Tech will be giving up lots of yards in field position through its special teams.
Coming Saturday: His first name is Joel.