Gone are the days of Pat McAfee and Nick O’Toole. The Mountaineers have struggled on special teams the past few years but now it looks like there might be some light at the end of the tunnel. With Tavon Austin, the Mountaineers were one misstep or one good block away from a kickoff going 99 yards for seven. With Mario Alford, the Mountaineers continued to be dangerous if the kickoff team wasn’t disciplined. It has been a while since the return team had to worry about the Mountaineers but that might be the case this year.
2018 West Virginia Special Teams
|8||Marcus Simms||6'-0"||194||Junior||Kick Returner-1|
|14||Tevin Bush||5'-6"||160||Sophomore||Kick Returner-2|
|20||Alec Sinkfield||5'-9"||187||R-Freshman||Kick Returner-3|
|23||Evan Matthes||6'-1"||208||Freshman||Scout Team|
|31||Casey Legg||6'-4"||199||Freshman||Scout Team|
|32||Martell Pettaway||5'-9"||210||Junior||Kick Returner-3|
|43||Luke Hogan||6'-1"||209||R-Sophomore||Scout Team|
|48||Skyler Simcox||6'-0"||187||R-Junior||Long Snapper|
|51||Kyle Poland||6'-2"||229||R-Sophomore||Long Snapper|
|52||JP Hadley||6'-2"||258||Freshman||Long Snapper|
|64||Rex Sunahara||6'-6"||240||R-Junior||Long Snapper|
According to Dana Holgorsen, kicker Evan Staley has taken over the kicking job. Staley struggled last year when he took over for Mike Molina. Staley hit all of his point-afters and 6-of-7 from inside 40 but he missed all of his kicks from long range. Holgorsen recently said in a press conference that Staley hit a 54-yard field goal with room to spare. If Staley can be a strong-legged kicker like Josh Lambert gave the Mountaineers previous years.
Punter Billy Kinney returns for his senior season and he’s made marginal improvements throughout his career. Last year he averaged 40 yards per punt and put 70% of his punts inside the 20. For the Mountaineers, if Kinney can help flip the field on occasion, it would go a long way it keeping the offense from having to play catch up time and time again.
On the return side, junior Marcus Simms returns to handle primary return duties. Simms flashed his speed as soon as he returned last year and averaged 26 yards per kickoff return. The big question for West Virginia is whether they will want Simms to return the ball with the new NCAA rule allowing teams to fair catch a ball inside the 25 and start at the 25.
Simms will also handle primary punt return duties but after averaging only 5 yards per return, there isn’t much to say. The Mountaineers have struggled since moving to the Big 12 on punt returns.
Like most colleges, West Virginia has a good number of punters and kickers not on scholarship but I can’t write about how good or bad the backups are because they haven’t seen any playing time. Most schools will let the punters and kickers walk-on and earn a scholarship.
Joining Simms on the return side will be Tevin Bush, Martell Pettaway and possibly Alec Sinkfield. Pettaway was the second kickoff return man last year, but Bush actually proved to be a more capable returner. Bush gained 70 yards on only three returns to Pettaway’s 53 on four returns.