With Florida State’s fall camp now underway, Seminoles.com is taking a position-by-position look at the 2017 FSU football team. The series wraps up with the specialists.
Welcome back: K/P Logan Tyler (6-0, 201; So.), K Ricky Aguayo (6-2, 196; So.), LS Stephen Gabbard (6-2, 248, Sr.)
Fresh faces: None.
So long, farewell: Jack Steed (holder in 2016, graduated), Kermit Whitfield (22.9 yards per kick return, graduated), Jesus Wilson (17.2 yards per kick return, graduated)
Florida State has enjoyed remarkable continuity in its kicking game over the last five years. Kicker Roberto Aguayo and punter Cason Beatty spent their entire FSU careers together (2012-2015), and current specialists Ricky Aguayo and Logan Tyler have continued that trend. The two are both back for their sophomore years and looking to build on the foundation they laid as freshmen. They’ll enjoy a bridge between the two eras, too, as senior long-snapper Stephen Gabbard is back for his fourth year of duty. Fifth-year senior Jared Jackson is the frontrunner to take over holding duties from the departed Jack Steed.
Aguayo made 19 of his 26 field goal attempts last year, good for a 73.1 percentage that would rank sixth on FSU’s all-time list for career percentage if it holds.
Aguayo got off to a hot start by making a school-record six field goals in his first career game, and he finished a perfect 12 for 12 from inside 40 yards. But beyond 40 yards is where Aguayo has room to improve – he finished 7 of 14 from that range, including a miss on his only attempt from beyond 50.
He did, however, enter the offseason on a strong note by hitting two important field goals (from 42 and 38 yards) in the Orange Bowl win over Michigan.
“Ricky had a tremendous start,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “I mean, he started on fire. He had one bad game with two or three missed kicks, which he hadn’t missed all year. Then he bounced back and played really well.”
Tyler, meanwhile, had a similar type of season in his first year as the Seminoles’ punter. He had seven punts of 50-plus yards, placed 11 inside the opponent’s 20-yard line and also did a fine job as the team’s kickoff specialist. But Tyler’s 40.3 yards-per-punt average was 10th-best in the ACC, and FSU’s punt coverage unit allowed 18.6 yards per return.
Still, growing pains are to be expected with such a freshman-heavy group. Fisher said nothing that happened last year really caught him by surprise, and he believes both of his kickers are in for an improvement this fall.
“That is the part you kind of knew was going to happen,” he said. “What gets (freshmen) is the longevity of the season, you know what I’m saying? … You’ll learn from that. The mental toughness and the drive.”
Who is returning kicks and punts?
FSU will have new faces in the return game, as both Kermit Whitfield and Bobo Wilson exhausted their eligibility last year. The Seminoles do return a few players with return experience, and they also tried out a number options during the spring.
Nyqwan Murray actually led the team with 13 punt return attempts, but his 0.6 yards-per-return average suggests he rarely had any space once he fielded the ball. One of the most elusive players on FSU’s roster, Murray could be a good choice if 1) he can get some breathing room and 2) he can be more consistent when he catches the punt.
Defensive backs Derwin James and Levonta Taylor both got punt-return work during the spring, as did heralded freshman running back Cam Akers.
At kick return, Ryan Green (4 attempts, 61 yards), Keith Gavin (1, 66) and Amir Rasul (1, 11) got some brief return experience last year. Those three are in the mix again, along with cornerback Tarvarus McFadden, James and Akers.
Fisher has long viewed the return game as one of many ways to rack up “hidden yards” – the yardage that doesn’t show up in the box score but still has an impact on the game. For example – a return man who can run up and field the ball cleanly could save his offense 10 or 20 yards compared to one who lets the ball bounce and roll backward.
As a result, Fisher typically chooses his returners based on who can most reliably catch the kicks and ensure that the offense takes over. Any yardage after that is a bonus. Expect that trend to continue this fall.