Will the UNC special teams unit improve in the 2015 season?


In the 2014 season, the UNC special teams unit wasn’t really special at all.

It was average.

No, it was pretty mediocre.

Actually, it was terrible.

The team’s longest made field goal last season was 30 yards long.  That length was 128th in the nation — otherwise known as dead last. The team only made six field goals total – that’s tied for 125th in the nation.

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There were no kick returns or punt returns that went for touchdowns. The longest punt return all season was 31 yards. And in the remaining seven games of last season, the kickers made a combined one field goal.Thomas Moore was 1-5 in field goals last season. Tommy Hibbard was ranked 58th in the nation with an average of 41.1 yards per punt. These two were seniors.

This is what I imagine the conversation would sound like if UNC faced a fourth and six on the opposition’s 30-yard line…

*Larry Fedora calls a timeout, pulls out a 12 oz can of Red Bull and chugs it*

Fedora: All right special teams, get out there!

Fedora: *Leans over and whispers to the UNC Special Teams’ Coach* Hey, what’s the longest field goal we’ve made this year?

UNC Special Teams Coach: *Whispers an incoherent stat to Fedora*

Fedora: Oh wow, 50 yards? That’s great!! *Begins to pull another Red Bull out of his other pocket*

UNC Special Teams Coach: *Sighs, and whispers again in Fedora’s ear*

Fedora: Oh…*Slowly puts Red Bull away*

Fedora: Never mind special teams. Get out there offense, I believe in you Marquise!

**(For those who don’t know, Fedora is sponsored by Red Bull and puts those things away like a pack of cigarettes)

That’s how it felt watching the UNC special teams unit in 2014. Gone are the days of Connor and Casey Barth – brothers who both made an All-ACC team as place-kickers in the 2000s.

Anyone remember 2004 when Connor Barth nailed a clutch 42-yard field goal to defeat No.3 Miami?

That kick saved John Bunting’s job – at least for another two seasons.  Back then, UNC students rushed the field and tore down field goal posts because they beat Miami at the end of regulation. Current students would have done the same if Moore or Nick Weiler hit a field over 40 yards last season.

Is there any hope for the UNC special teams?

Well, if you click on UNC’s football roster and scroll all the way down until the jersey numbers are in the 90s, a player named Corbin Daly will come across the screen. In his bio, it states that he’s a redshirt freshman. More importantly, he was ranked as the second-best punter in his class by 247Sports.

Scroll further down and you will see the name Freeman Jones who also is a redshirt freshman. Jones was ranked as the eighth-best placekicker in his class by Scout.com and fifth-best by 247Sports.

There are three players vying for the position of place-kicker – Weiler, Will O’Briant, and the aforementioned Jones.

Nov 29, 2014; Chapel Hill, NC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels head coach Larry Fedora encourages his team after a touchdown by the North Carolina State Wolfpack during the second half at Kenan Memorial Stadium. The Wolfpack won 35-7. Mandatory Credit: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Weiler went 5-8 last season with a long of 23 yards and O’Briant is a walk-on.

There are also three players vying for the position of punter –   Joey Mangili, Blake Bozymski, and the aforementioned Daly.

Mangili punted twice last year for an average of 41.5 yards and Bozymski is a sophomore walk-on who has never punted in a game.

Give these top-10 recruits a shot. Why not? There really isn’t much to lose. If UNC expects the defense to improve, that means games will be much tighter. And when games are tight, there is no better feeling in the world than knowing your kicker can nail a 46-yard field goal with 1:20 on the clock.

Jimbo Fisher would agree wholeheartedly.  He’s previously had Dustin Hopkins, and now he has Roberto Aguayo – both All-American place-kickers. Fisher even snatched Aguayo’s younger brother Ricky Aguayo for his 2016 recruiting board.  That team down in Tallahassee is pretty good – wouldn’t hurt for the Tar Heels to follow that blueprint. Not recruiting siblings, but securing a future for UNC special teams.

There can be discussions about UNC’s returning offensive firepower or Gene Chizik’s 4-3 defense. Those are great. They really are.

But special teams are the constant and ultimate X Factor.  Fedora and the coaching staff know that. Let’s hope they do something to fix the issue.