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APSU football: Govs have quality, experience on special teams

APSU Athletics Communications

By Colby Wilson

APSU Athletics Communications

Throughout fall camp, LetsGoPeay.com will take a look at each of the position groups as the Austin Peay State University football team goes through preparations for the 2019 season. As we turn our focus to the specialists, it’s amazing to think of the progress here. Not long ago, Devin Stuart was moving from defensive back to punter because… well, someone had to do it. Now there’s a stable of talent to work with.

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. – Having two fifth-year players as incumbents at kicker and punter should offer a measure of comfort for the Govs.

Logan Birchfield and Devin Stuart have been through a lot at Austin Peay. Five seasons. They date back to the days of going 0-for-the season. Birchfield had to moonlight at punter once. Stuart didn’t even start as a special-teamer—one day the Govs needed a punter and the next, he was the man.

So regardless of how 2019 shakes out, having reliable veterans should leave the special teams unit in good hands. But what’s more—and possibly more helpful—is the bevy of newcomers in to push the incumbents.

At punter, Stuart returns for another season while eying his first All-OVC nod; he averaged 41.0 yards per boot a year ago, good for fourth in the OVC. But alongside Stuart is Corey Petersen, an Australian who came to the United States from Monash University in Melbourne and can perform a variety of tasks thanks to his Australian Rules Football background.

“They both have big legs, they can both hit 45-yard balls consistently,” said Director of Operations Jordan Frazier, who also works with the specialists. “We have to continue to build on overall consistency. They’ve both got good touch on the ball and they’ve had really good accuracy during fall camp. They’re versatile in what they can do.

“There’s no question Devin is an incredible athlete; he essentially taught himself to punt. He’s great at handling the ball and his get-off time is quick.”

Two incumbents also are back in the place-kicking game. Logan Birchfield, who has handled field-goal responsibilities the last two seasons, is back for one more run and needs eight makes to move into the top-five all-time in program history.

Cole Phillips, who took the bulk of kickoff duties a year ago, is back and could also play a factor from longer distances on field goal attempts. Freshman Ashton Dodd, who can punt and placekick, is also in the mix.

“It’s a good thing coming in to have two kickers who have played a lot and experienced game atmosphere,” Frazier said. “Both have kicked the ball well during camp. They’ve built on the consistency from the spring and their legs are feeling fresh.”

Nic Screnock is the only returning long snapper after appearing in four games a year ago. Wary of rolling into the season with just one name on the depth chart, the Govs added Lucas Betten from Riverside (Calif.) City College and lanky Sam Wiesbrook, a 6-6 freshman from Yorkville, Ill.

“When we came in, we only had four specialists on the roster and only one snapper,” Frazier said. “Typically, we like to carry more than one snapper because that can be an issue if he goes down. The guys we’ve brought in have done really well, and Screnock has really emerged in that position group.”

While the coverage units number far too many people to list out, Frazier will be able to deploy numerous players on kickoff and punts. Throughout camp, the coverage units have seen a multitude of players in action, allowing maximum unit flexibility and putting the best players in the best position possible.

“Having so much defensive back depth is huge,” Frazier said “A lot of those guys have already played on coverage units before. That experience on those units is invaluable. We’ve been able to build some depth in our coverage and return units for guys who hadn’t been taking a lot of reps.

2019 Returnees / 2018 Stats

Logan Birchfield (R-Sr.) / 5-of-7 FG, long of 45 yards, 41-of-43 PAT; 24 kickoffs, 48.0 average, 3 touchbacks
Cole Phillips (Jr.) / 35 kickoffs, 53.5 average, 3 touchbacks
Nic Screnock (R-So.) / 4 games
Devin Stuart (R-Sr.) / 58 punts, 41.0 average, long of 65 yards, 6 touchbacks, 8 50-plus, 12 downed inside the 20-yard line

2019 Newcomers

Lucas Betten (Jr.)
Ashton Dodd (Fr.)
Corey Petersen (So.)
Sam Wiesbrook (Fr.)

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