MORGANTOWN, W.Va.–Special teams play only about 10 percent of a football game but any given play on special teams can alter the outcome of a game, whether it’s good or bad.
The West Virginia University football team knows this all too well.
Several pieces of the Mountaineers’ special teams unit return, including Mike Molina, Billy Kinney and Nick Meadows.
During Josh Lambert’s suspension last year, Molina stepped in as WVU’s No.1 kicker. Against Missouri, he made 4-of-4 field goals and on seven kickoff opportunities he totaled 435 yards for a 62.1 average with four touchbacks.
As a redshirt junior, Molina made 15-of-22 field goal attempts while converting all 51 of his PAT tries.
The 5-foot-7, 179-pound senior ranked 51st in the nation and fifth in the Big 12 in field goals per game. He led the team in scoring 96 points and kicked a career-long 50-yard field goal in the Mountaineers’ win over Baylor.
However, Molina was best from inside the 40-yard line. He was just 2-of-6 from behind the 40.
Kinney is another WV native that returns as WVU’s punter. The Morgantown native finished fourth in the conference in punting and he was 48th in the country.
In his sophomore campaign, Kinney finished with 59 punts for 2,462 yards, an average of 41.7 yards per punt and a long of 63 yards.
The 6-foot-4, 218-pound Kinney had seven punts of 50 or more yards on the season and placed 17 punts inside the opponents 20.
In the Mountaineers’ Russell Athletic Bowl loss to Miami, he averaged 44.1 yards on eight punts with a career-long 63-yard punt.
Battling both Kinney and Molina for starting dibs is John Young. The redshirt freshman was a highly touted kicker and punter.
According to Scout, the Advance, N.C. native was the top kicker in the state and seventh in the country.
At Davie High, he hit 10-of-13 field goal attempts and 64-of-73 extra point attempts. Young scored 94 points.
Evan Staley is another kicker/ punter that is capable of stepping in if Molina or Kinney falter.
University of Houston transfer and walk-on Luke Hogan is another kicker on the roster but will have to sit out due to NCAA regulations. Matt Molina is a true freshman from Huntington that will likely redshirt.
Williamstown native Nick Meadows returns to WVU as the team’s long snapper. The redshirt senior saw action in all 13 games last season, where he handled all field goals, punt and extra point snapping duties.
During spring, Meadows earned The Tommy Nickolich Award, which is given to the team’s top walk-on.
Waiting in Meadows’ shadows will be redshirt freshman Kyle Poland and sophomore Rex Sunahara.
Punt return was a shaky area for the Mountaineers the last couple of seasons. Junior wide receiver Gary Jennings handled the team’s punt returns last year.
The 6-foot-1, 204-pounder averaged 1.9 yards per try but didn’t have any blunders, which has proved costly in the past.
If WVU decides to go another way other than Jennings on punt returns, both Tevin Bush and Reggie Roberson are viable options.
While at John Horn High, Roberson had more than 800 return yards and averaged 13.4 yards on punt returns.
Shelton Gibson wasthe Mountaineers’ go-to guy on kickoff returns last season but he left for the NFL. Both Jennings and Jevon Durante saw action on kickoffs last season.
Currently, Jennings and David Sills are listed as WVU’s primary kickoff men but incoming freshman could challenge them for the position.
In high school, Roberson averaged 26.7 yards per return. Against Rockwall-Heath he returned a 100-yard kickoff.
Cover Photo Credit: Kelsie LeRose, BGS