Each day, the Massachusetts Daily Collegian sports blog will break down each position on the UMass football roster from now until the regular season, starting today with specialists. Check in tomorrow for a look at the defensive line.
Key Returners: Colter Johnson (SR), Brendon Levengood (SR), Blake Lucas (SO), Jeff Strait (SR), Vance Barton (SR)
Promising Newcomers: Markus Colin (FR), Nicholas Berus (FR), Logan Laurent (FR)
Notes: This is without question the team’s biggest area of strength. It’s a veteran group with plenty of experience and the talent to go with it. Many of these players saw an exceptional amount of playing time last season due to struggles both offensively and defensively. But it’s not just that aspect that sets them apart; there’s some actual ability to go around as well.
One player to keep an eye on is punter Colter Johnson, who was named to the preseason Watch List for the 2013 Ray Guy Award, which is given to the nation’s top collegiate punter. Johnson average 43.8 yards per punt last season with his longest going 66 yards. He had 19 punts go over 50 yards with 16 of them landing inside the 20-yard line and was only blocked once.
UMass coach Charley Molnar has echoed similar sentiments for his specialists, including Johnson, but he especially likes the under appreciated value of long snapper Vance Barton, who he believes has pro potential.
The kicking duties will be shared between Brendon Levengood and Blake Lucas. Lucas appears to have the placekicking job sewn up after emerging as a reliable option as a freshman last season, going seven-of-eight on field goal attempts with a long of 39 yards. That leaves Levengood, who averaged 60.7 yards per kick, as the kickoff man and Jeff Strait, who Molnar referred to as Mr. Reliable, as the placeholder.
Markus Colin (kicker), Nicholas Berus (long snapper) and Logan Laurent (punter) probably won’t see much action throughout the regular season. But they’ve been active in practice and could be ready to fill in if need be at some point this season.
Nick Canelas can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @NickCanelas.