The Parthenon

Herd’s special teams unit plays unsung hero role for team

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When considering Marshall University’s No. 1 conference-ranked scoring defense, it is easy to take for granted the work of the special teams unit this season.

The Herd’s special teams unit has been precisely that this season – special. While the team has had continuity issues this season in other areas, its special teams has been the one constant factor.

Whether it is the kickoff team, the punt team or the field goal team, the Herd’s special teams unit has had continuous success so far this season.

Marshall’s redshirt sophomore kickoff specialist Amoreto Curraj took over the kickoff duties for the Herd in his freshman season in 2013 and immediately found success.

Curraj finished the 2013 season with 52 touchbacks, which was fourth nationally and a university record. From 2007-2012, Marshall’s football program had a total of 26 touchbacks.

Curraj was redshirted in 2014 due to back and groin injuries, but since returning in 2015, the kicker has picked up right where he left off.

Through seven games this season, Curraj has recorded 25 touchbacks. And Marshall’s kickoff coverage team has limited the opposition to just 17.5 yards per kick return, which ranks 15th nationally.

The Herd’s kickoff return game has been led by senior wide receiver Deandre Reaves, who has become one of the best kick returners in Marshall history over his career.

Reaves has set the school record for single-season return yards in each of the last two years, with 924 return yards in 2013 and 931 return yards in 2014.

Reaves currently has 2,206 career kick return yards, breaking Ray Crisp’s previous school record of 1,966 yards from 1975-1978.  The Herd’s kick return unit as a whole is ranked eighth nationally, averaging 27.8 yards per kick return.

Senior punter Tyler Williams has been among the best punters in Marshall history since his freshman season in 2012.  Williams currently averages 44.1 yards per punt over the course of his career, and if it holds up, his average would break Pat Velarde’s career school record of 43.4 yards per punt set from 1982-1983.

Since 2012, Williams has had 55 punts of 50 yards or more yards and 12 punts of 60 yards or more.  In 2015, he has 22 punts downed inside the 20-yard line, which ranks first nationally.

Williams’ stellar play led him to be named a captain for the Herd’s most recent game against Florida Atlantic University, becoming the first Marshall player under head coach Doc Holliday to be named a captain.

“He (Williams) is such a great kid that works extremely hard,” Holliday said in his weekly press conference Oct. 13.  “He’ll play a long time if he’s got that kind of ability, which I think he does.”

Sophomore Nick Smith earned the job of starting field goal kicker in fall camp and so far this season, he has literally been perfect.  Smith has connected on all eight of his field goal attempts and all 27 of his extra point attempts, making him 35 of 35 on all kicks.

Only four kickers in the FBS have made more kicks without missing than Smith this season.  The Herd has made 130 straight extra points dating back to Nov. 2, 2013 and 15 straight field goals dating back to Nov. 22, 2014.

Holliday said the special teams’ ability in the field position battle has helped out the Herd.

“That’s what special teams is all about,” Holliday said Tuesday during his press conference. “It’s about flipping the field position; it’s about creating field position and that’s the one thing we’ve been able to do because of our kickoff with Curraj because of our punt with Tyler (Williams) and because of our kickoff return with Reaves and that unit.”

The Herd’s special teams unit looks to continue its success Saturday against the University of North Texas for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff at Joan C. Edwards Stadium for  Marshall’s homecoming.

Trace Johnson can be contacted at [email protected]

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