SHERIDAN — During the very first practice of the season, Sheridan High School football assistant coach Kevin Rizer pulled aside a group of players to work on elements of the punting game.
From the snap to the drop to the kick to the catch, a select number of players either shook off the rust from a year ago or tried their hand at either kicking, snapping or fielding the ball.
While Sheridan hasn’t always needed strong special teams play for every matchup of the season, the Broncs work on that sector of the game every day in practice, and they certainly leaned on it last week in a win-or-go-home situation.
“There’s a lot of emphasis put on special teams,” Sheridan place kicker Toby Jacobs said. “The other day we were talking in the war room on how, if you win two of the three facets of the game (offense, defense and special teams), then you’ll usually win the game. So special teams are really huge.”
Jacobs earned the place-kicking responsibilities before the season started during an open competition.
Garrett Coon stood as the biggest challenger to Jacobs that day and while Jacobs was named the place kicker, Coon was charged with kickoffs and punting.
Coon had the stronger leg where Jacobs showcased a little more accuracy.
Now, the two — who also play both offense and defense — set aside a portion of practice each day to work on their craft.
Before the Broncs become knee-deep in offensive and defensive schemes, kickers, punters and snappers strictly practice their special teams’ responsibilities. Special teams also come to the forefront during the heart of practice as Sheridan will dedicate, at the very least, 20 minutes a day to work on elements of special teams.
Tuesday is geared toward kickoff and punt return. Wednesday entails fine tuning of kickoff and punt coverage, and Thursday has the Broncs brush up on all facets of special teams. In addition, following every practice, kickers Coon and Jacobs will boot field goals and extra points in an effort to improve those actions and make them more consistent.
“I really enjoy special teams,” Jacobs said. “It’s not really a grind. We just kind of go through the new stuff we are going to do based on what the other team will do and the adjustments we’ll do. Usually it’s just cleaning stuff up and making sure everyone is on the same page and repping it again and again so we stay consistent.”
The stat sheet provides validity that all the practice has paid off. Jacobs logged the fifth-longest made field goal this season in 4A football at 38 yards, and Coon ranks in the top 10 in both kickoff and punt yardage. Quarterback Jacob Boint — who serves as Sheridan’s back-up punter — will occasionally pooch punt from a shotgun position, averaging 38.9 yards per boot, ranking him third in the state.
The Broncs also boast strong play on the other side of special teams. Parker Christensen leads the state, gaining 44.7 yards per kickoff return with two touchdowns, while Quinn Heyneman and Jacobs are third and fourth in the state, respectively, in punt return average at 9.9 and 8.7 yards per attempt.
“If you look at number of plays — offense, defense, special teams — special teams is not a third of the ball game, but if you look at the number of yards, every special teams play is 50 yards plus,” Sheridan head coach Jeff Mowry said. “You look at our offensive output last week — not tremendous — but you add in our kick return and our punt return, and we gained a lot more yards.”
Many times, a team’s all-time leading scorer is its kicker. For example, six of the top 10 all-time scoring leaders in college football are kickers, tallying anywhere from 451-494 points during their four-year careers.
While that stat may not be as common in high school, it’s important, and that showed last week in the semifinals. The Broncs seized control of the field position game on a second-half kickoff return from Christensen and didn’t relinquish it for the entire second half.
Sheridan pinned Thunder Basin inside its own 10-yard line twice, the second of which resulted in a short punt that set up the Broncs’ go-ahead touchdown with 30 seconds to play.
“Our offense wasn’t really going our way in the second half, so we really had to rely on special teams to help get us going,” Coon said.
Whether Sheridan will lean on its special teams Saturday in the state title game against Natrona County remains to be seen. But if those select few are called upon, they will stand ready and Mowry has confidence in them.
“They go out there and it’s not an easy job, and often times it’s a thankless job,” Mowry said. “They’ve really done a nice job this year, and I don’t expect anything less this week.”