By Anna Arnau
Paul Johnson has had a successful career as head coach of the football team, leading the Jackets to an ACC Championship in 2009, its first BCS bowl game in 2009, and coaching the team to lead the nation in rushing last season. With success both defensively and offensively, the team has consistently had an Achilles heel – the special teams unit.
Although Coach Johnson has been firm throughout his career on having coaches help in training their own specific unit of special teams, this season he has proven his continued commitment to success by adding to the staff Coach David Walkosky to serve as special teams coordinator and be completely dedicated to special teams success.
Walkosky played his college career at Toledo and has served as a special teams coordinator at several schools across the country, including Toledo, UT-Martin and Washington State. While coaching at Toledo, seven of his 15 special teams units were at one time ranked in the top 15 nationally. The team ranked in the top five nationally in both punt returns and net punting in 2003, and the Rockets blocked 24 kicks in 8 seasons.
Tech has noticeably struggled with special teams and last season was no different. With an 11-of-18 success rate last season, perhaps one of the biggest weaknesses on special teams is in field goal kicking. The climax of the mediocre play in the kicking department came in the 2011 Sun Bowl against Utah with three missed field goals in the seventh consecutive bowl loss for the Jackets since 2005.
Walkosky is well aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the team, and he has been looking to see where he can make the biggest impact for special teams in next season. It is hard to bring in specialty players specifically for special teams, and coaches are forced to place position players in special teams roles.
“I think we’re loaded with special teams players across the board. Every single player, position wise, will be used in our special teams – offensive line, defensive line, everything,” Walkosky said.
Another statistic with a stench is kick returns for touchdowns. Tech has not seen a kickoff returned taken to the house since 1998 when Dez White returned a kick for 100 yards against Maryland. Last season, Tech averaged 19.2 yards per return with a season long return of 79 yards by redshirt sophomore A-back Tony Zenon. Walkosky has been quoted multiple times saying that he wants to be number one in the country on all aspects of special teams. A kickoff return for a touchdown would help achieve such an ambitious goal.
“It’s not a goal that we talk about, but every single time we have a kick return it’s designed that we want it to go to the house and that’s what we’re looking for,”Walkosky explained.
When asked how he has been preparing for the season and new position, the coach shared that he’s spent an extended amount of time studying film of opponents. With such a big inter-conference game for the season opener, its no surprise that the team has been preparing for “9/3” all summer.
“Our first game is Virginia Tech, and Frank Beamer is a phenomenal special teams coach. He’s one of the best ever in special teams in college football,” said Walkosky.
Coach Beamer has come to have his style of coaching awarded its own name, “Beamerball”. Since his career with the Hokies began in 1987, 35 different players from Virginia Tech have scored touchdowns on special teams. It’s no wonder that Coach Beamer has built up a reputation for being an elite special teams coach.
Walkosky’s first snap in college resulted in him blocking a punt, so he can understand and handle the pressure of the role specialty players serve. So how does a new special teams coordinator for a team that hasn’t valued special teams to such a degree until now prepare for a season against coaches like Frank Beamer? For Walkosky, one major component of success on special teams is focus, and he’s looking to harp on that to both freshmen and returning players.
“We have to get every player to understand and to have great focus for one play, because you don’t get a second chance on special teams,” Walkosky said.
With the addition of Walkosky to the staff, the Jackets are looking to do away with their weakest aspect on the field. With hopes of being able to compete nationally on all fronts, the entire program has big hopes for a hugely impactful season this fall.
“Our goal is to do whatever we have to do to help us win football games…We want to try and win every single game.”
By Anna Arnau