In the days leading up to the season opener at Connecticut, we will be previewing all the position groups for this year's Villanova football team. The full schedule can be found at the bottom of this post.
Villanova wasn't a total loss last season on special teams. The coverage units performed well, and the return teams managed good yardage, limited turnovers, and ripped off a few real big runs. When it came to field goals and extra points, however, nothing was very certain for the gridiron cats.
Steve Weyler... Step on up! After a rough go of it his Freshman year, the sophomore leg from Cardinal O'Hara is going to have to take a step forward this season. Weyler has a strong leg that will be an asset on kickoffs, but he will need to improve on last season's accuracy. He was 1-of-3 on field goal attempts last season and 33-of-39 on extra points.
With Chris Gough gone (he landed on the team at Rutgers, it seems), Weyler is the most experienced placekicker on the roster. He came to Villanova on a scholarship, so expect the staff to give him every chance to earn it this season.
If he struggles, however, the program did add two freshmen at the kicker/punter positions. Elia Palmese joins the program as an All-Conference, All-County selection at Rancocas Valley high school in New Jersey who made a long field goal of 43-yards in high school. Gerard Smith also joins the team out of Garden City High School in New York after ranking top-five all-time in points scored for his high school career.
After serving as the team's punter in all 14 games last year, John Hinchen will come back this Fall to try and hit the coffin-corner again. He had 53 punts in 2014, for an average of 39.4 yards per punt, booting seven of them over 50 yards, and downing 14 inside the opponent's 20-yard line. Hinchen has kicking oblong balls in his blood -- his father was an Australian Rules Football player for 13 years.
All three of the kickers on the roster will also cross-train punting, so if Hinchen suffers an injury, you may see Weyler or one of the freshmen trying their hand at punting.
Look for Javon White to take on some work in the return game this season. His speed and shifty moves will be an asset for the Wildcats fielding punts, though he may share the kickoff duties with fellow running back Matt Gudzak, who finished his freshman season as the team's top-choice kickoff returner. Either candidate offers a set of sure hands and an ability to find a seam in the coverage to add a few yards.
(Since someone is going to ask: the longsnapper will be Collin Linden. He was a freshman last year and he did pretty good).