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December 29, 2013
Grading The Team: Special Teams
Now that the Houston Cougars' regular season has concluded, the team has begun it's preparation for the January 4 BBVA Compass Bowl Game against Vanderbilt, their eighth bowl game since 2003.
As the team finishes it's final preparation for next weekend's game, CougarsDen finishes it's look at how each position group fared during the Cougars regular season and given each position group a grade.
Today we wrap-up the series with a look at the special teams which featured a current star, a potential future star and many quality components.
The obvious place to start any conversation about the Cougars' special teams units in 2013 is with senior punter Richie Leone who wrapped up his impressive career with the Cougars with yet another solid season landing him on his third consecutive Ray Guy Award semi-finalist list.
The NFL bound senior ended the season with an average of 43.1 yards, including a long of 65 yards and 33 punts downed inside the opponents 20 yard line. He also handled kick-off duties all season and spent the first half of the year as the field goal kicker as well before head coach Tony Levine lightened his load some and went with sophomore Kyle Bullard the rest of the way.
Bullard filled in nicely handling extra points and field goals for the second half of the season, ending the season a perfect 5-of-5 on field goals and 17-of-17 on extra points.
The kick-off return department got a shot in the arm this season as true freshman Demarcus Ayers stepped in and showed steady improvement week-to-week. He finished the season with a 26.8 yard return average, one touchdown (against BYU), and earned both co-special teams player of the year honors in the American Athletic Conference as well as the first team kick returner slot as well.
The punt return department lacked any real fireworks this season as several players tried their hand at the spot, including Larry McDuffey and Damian Payne before the staff went with freshman Greg Ward late in the season to create some more opportunities for him.
The rest of the cast did a tremendous job as well with coverage units looking very strong in 2013. Some standouts included Earl Foster, Trevon Stewart and Adrian McDonald. Sophomore Nolan Freese stepped into the deep snapper's role in 2013 and performed very well.
The one area that stood out the defensive side of special teams was the team's ability to block field goals. The unit finished with four on the season, led by B.J. Singleton's three.
For the season, with only minor issues that were addressed along the way, the special teams unit as a whole finished out with a solid A and looks to be in solid hands moving into the future.