Florida State’s special teams have been inconsistent in past years. The Seminoles will have a new kicker and punter in 2020 but there are reasons for optimism because of the emphasis coach Mike Norvell puts on special teams.
Take for instance how Norvell ends practices. Not with a goal-line offense vs. defense drill. No, all eyes are on the specialists.
“Coach Norvell brought a new element to practices this year,” kicker Parker Grothaus said. “He likes to end on a game-winning kick, whether it’s a field goal, punt, kickoff, game-winning snap. He likes to keep us involved and get that pressure. They always call up the whole team, all the support staff, everyone and put that pressure on us at the end of practice. There’s always something on the line whether it’s running, push-ups, up-downs. It makes it more game-like, brings that intensity.”
In close games, special teams are often the difference – a made field goal, a punt that pins the opponent deep, a kickoff that gives the offense a shorter field. Those plays add up and can put teams in a position to win but too often have been a sore spot for FSU in past years. The struggles included Ricky Aguayo’s 7 of 14 on field-goal attempts, walk-on Tommy Martin’s 39.2-yard average and D.J. Matthews’ 6.6-yard average on punt returns.
Alex Mastromanno, a freshman from Australia, has drawn praise from coaches for his booming punts and has all-but-officially solidified that job. But the other jobs are wide open as Norvell has put some of FSU’s top offensive and defensive players in return roles. Ryan Fitzgerald and Grothaus are also in a battle for the field-goal kicking job with FSU’s opener against Georgia Tech coming on Saturday at 3:30 p.m.
“We’ve had a really good competition,” Norvell said. “I like what I am seeing with our guys and the way their mindset and approach is each and every day. … Obviously you want the consistency and work in what they are doing, but you never want somebody to be relaxed in it. You want competitive reps in everything.”
Grothaus described times when he shanked a kick in practice and said he would get “chewed out by coach Norvell.” The intent, though, is to repeat the pressure-packed kicks and replicate what they could encounter on Saturdays.
Norvell early on said he wouldn’t waste players’ time in practice. That apparently also goes for specialists, who are typically observing more than kicking. But that’s not the case now at FSU.
“We’re always practicing little stuff, whether it’s onsides, kickoffs, field goals, punts, the snappers are always working,” Grothaus said. “They like to keep us involved at practice and always helping out any way we can. There’s really no sitting around. We’re always constantly doing something.”