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August 8, 2008

Prince keeps eye on special teams

When he addressed special teams at the Big 12 Media Day in Kansas City, Kansas State coach Ron Prince recalled a message he directed at incoming junior college All-American George Pierson, who hopes to replace All-Big 12 selection Tim Reyer at punter in the fall. Seems Pierson, who spent his summer booming punts across Bill Snyder Family Stadium, has big shoes to fill in following the ninth-ranked punter in the nation a year ago.

"I told George the other day, 'I hope you're really good. You're raising my juco (recruiting) number, you better be worth it,'" Prince said.

Prince quickly added, "He's a good punter and he'll obviously pay dividends for us."

Pierson averaged 43.2 yards on 42 punts at Tyler (Texas) Junior College with a season-high 75-yarder, and earned All-American honors and was an All-Southwest JCFC first-team selection last season.

Reyer handled all of the punting duties for the Wildcats last season in averaging a Big 12-leading 44.5 yards on 58 punts with a 61-yarder, six touchbacks, 13 fair catches and 22 inside the 20-yard-line and no blocks. A former walk-on, Reyer in 2007 became the first semifinalist for Ray Guy Award in K-State history.

"When you go from having one of the very best to just an unknown, it is concerning," Prince said. "I liked the way D.J. Fulhage performed in the spring. Obviously, we felt George Pierson was the best punter on the open market."

Fulhage, a sophomore, seeks his first punt at K-State.

"Clearly, we want to have a good punter and between those two we should find the right one," Prince said.

It became apparent the punter position wasn't the biggest concern on Prince's mind, though. Prince hopes the addition of 30-year-old Jeff Rodgers as full-time special teams coordinator will pay dividends after Rodgers arrived in Manhattan following five seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, including the last three as assistant special teams coach.

Among his duties, Rodgers will be charged with improving one of the Wildcats' biggest weaknesses: kickoffs.

"You have to develop kids in the kicking game and the kickoff is more of a concern than the punt," Prince said. "I hope we don't punt a whole lot but if we kickoff the way we did last year then we'll have a lot of trouble. We had the fewest touchbacks in the league and that really contributed to a poor or average start for our defense."

Kickoff was an Achilles' heel for K-State, which ranked eighth in the Big 12 in allowing 21.46 yards per kickoff return and 132.3 total kickoff yards per game, which ranked 11th. That ranking was only better than Missouri, which gave up an average of 136.3 kickoff return yards per game (20.97 per return) but totaled 17 more kickoffs than the Wildcats during the season.

K-State also gave up a Big 12-leading three kickoff returns for a touchdown, including a 98-yard return by Oklahoma State's Perrish Cox, a 94-yard return by Nebraska's Ro Grixby and a 99-yard return by Missouri's Jeremy Maclin. Baylor allowed two kickoff returns for a touchdown, four other teams surrendered one and six others didn't allow any.

"With the new rule, we didn't take advantage of that circumstance," Prince said. "Kicking off and all of those things will really help us in a coordinated effort."

K-State is set at place-kicker as senior Brooks Rossman received first-team All-Big 12 honors from Rivals.com after he led the Big 12 in field goals per game (1.83, tied for fifth nationally) and in field goal percentage (78.6 percent, fifth in K-State history) behind a school season record-tying 22 field goals. Rossman went 22 for 28 on field goal attempts with a career-high 52 yarder last season.

But Prince hopes sophomore Josh Cherry will push Rossman for starting kickoff duties.

"Kickoff is Rossman (as the starter) but I'd love to see Josh Cherry compete," Prince said. "Josh in the spring game had a long field goal and that surprised him as much as it did us. If we can get the ball into the end zone or at the goal line, Josh is a very good athlete and he's a willing tackler, too, so that gives you an added component to the coverage."





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