In the minds of many fans, football revolves around defense coming up with big hits and offense scoring touchdowns. How quickly people may forget, though, the integral third piece of the puzzle: special teams.
“There’s always three important phases of the game that we have to win all of them. We always want to make sure we win special teams,” redshirt senior defensive back Brendin Straubel said.
It is so coveted by the Knights that a weekly award for the best special-teams player of the week is given out: the Hammer Award.
“It’s definitely a well-deserved award that everyone wants to get, and that’s a goal to get around here. It’s definitely a prestigious award in our program, and I hope to one day be able to get that,” junior long snapper Gage Marsil said.
A sledgehammer is passed down to each week’s winner. True freshman tight end Joe Turk walked away with the hammer Tuesday for his play against Houston.
After sophomore wide receiver and returner Jordan Akins sustained a season-ending knee injury against Furman, the Knights have seen former walk-ons fill the vacancy he left.
Redshirt junior wide receiver Hayden Jones has seen time on kickoff returns, while sophomore wide receiver Chris Johnson and redshirt junior wide receiver Blake Tiralosi have both returned punts.
“It’s awesome, definitely, just being a part of the game plan and knowing you have a role on the field and you can help out the team [in] any way you can,” Tiralosi said.
UCF’s special teams begins and ends with its specialists, though. Between punters redshirt junior Caleb Houston and redshirt freshman Mac Loudermilk, the Knights are ranked No. 26 in the FBS in yards per punt with 39.84.
Houston is also quickly climbing in the UCF record books. He is currently No. 5 in punts with 138 (No. 4 is Javier Beorlegui with 151) and No. 5 in punt yardage with 5,742 (No. 4 is also Beorlegui with 6,209).
But even with the departure of former UCF kicker Shawn Moffitt — the school’s No. 1 all-time scorer with 314 points, the all-time leader in most field goals made with 53 and No. 2 in career field goal percentage with 76.8% — the Knights have found an emerging specialist star in redshirt freshman kicker Matthew Wright; or as the team likes to call him, “Matty Ice.”
“As far as being a young guy, no matter what team you’re on, you definitely depend on that kicker to make those crucial points,” Straubel said. “We need those three points. We always need that one point at the end of a touchdown. Just like [his nickname] implies, that’s how you got to be as a kicker. Last minute or anytime we need a crucial field goal, every field goal’s crucial.
“To put that pressure on his shoulders and to be able to still make the play, you got to have ice running through your veins.”
Wright currently leads the team in scoring with 40 points He is 9-for-13 on field goals and has made all 13 extra points he has attempted. Behind him are true freshman wide receiver D’erren Wilson and junior wide receiver Nick Patti with 18 apiece.
The Knights will travel to play Cincinnati Saturday at noon. It will be the first time the teams have played each other in program history.
Victor Ng is a Senior Staff Writer for the Central Florida Future. Follow him on Twitter at @_victorT24.