Guzman is ‘No. 1 Weapon’ on special teams, punter spot an open competition
STEPHENVILLE — For whatever reason, special teams typically gets overlooked by the typical football fan. Maybe there's a lack of flash compared to big hits or deep throws, and somehow, it's usually at the top of mind only when something negative happens. Tarleton Assistant Coach (Special Teams) Michael Walton says that if special teams is done right, it should "win you two-to-three games a year."
"Moving up a level, the games are going to be much closer," Walton said. "The competition is more 'apples to apples' so to speak, so the margin of error you've had in the past isn't going to be what it is now. You can't make mistakes in the kicking game and expect to come out on the winning side every time. So, the amount of focus and the amount of time we're putting into, hopefully translates to that."
Walton said he was proud of the work the group did last year in changing "the culture and the way they feel about special teams around here" and that they're even more ahead of schedule this season because of how everyone prepared over the summer.
Last season, Tarleton averaged 24.05 yards per kickoff return, a mark that would have put the Texans 13th at the FCS level, if not for the reclassification period. They also averaged 8.7 yards per punt return compared to 4.3 yards per return for their opponents, who were given just three opportunities to return punts all season.
Kaylon Horton had two touchdowns for the Texans on special teams, including a 93-yard kickoff return for a score and a 59-yard punt return TD. He averaged 26.4 yards per kick return and 9.4 yards per punt return.
Returning at kicker is Adrian Guzman, who made 11-of-16 (.686) field goals in 2020 as a freshman. He was 11-of-14 (.786) from inside the 50, including a perfect 6-of-6 from the 30-39 range.
"We got a strong field goal kicker," Walton said. "Any time you got a kid who can get you points, it changes the game for you, and maybe helps the head coach in the way he calls plays, knowing we got an opportunity to score any time you get inside the 30. So, we feel good about him, I would say he's our No. 1 weapon right now."
Guzman started his freshman campaign off with a bang, making 3-of-4 field goal attempts in the season opener against McNeese State, including two in overtime. In the first overtime, all of the pressure was on him to tie the game and keep Tarleton's hopes alive. He did, nailing a 37-yarder to send the game to 2OT. In that period, he faced a 45-yard attempt to put the Texans ahead, which he made, something a lot of freshmen aren't tasked with in their very first game.
That's mental toughness, something Guzman said is the most important quality of a good kicker.
"In high school I was always told kicking is 90 percent mental, 10 percent physical," Guzman said. "I like to go by that, because all that matters is to make sure you have that mentality in you."
Walton shared his sentiment, also emphasizing that he and the team have full faith in Guzman.
"To me, I relate it to playing golf a little bit from a mental standpoint," Walton said. "You just got to be ready for the next kick, no matter what happened with the previous kick. If you kicked a 50-yarder or you missed a chip shot, you got to move onto the next one otherwise it will snowball and permeate and you'll be all over the place."
The kicking situation is set at Tarleton, but that's far from the case at punter. Walton said "it's an open competition" between Trooper Elwonger and Jake Walrath. Walrath, a sophomore, recorded all of the punts last season for Tarleton. He averaged 37.5 yards over his 30 punts, with four 50-yard booms, a long of 55 yards. He pinned the opponents inside the 20-yard-line 10 times, with four touchbacks. Elwonger, a junior, is in his third season at Tarleton. He appeared in two games last season, making his Texan debut on Feb. 27 against Dixie State.
"It's certainly an area we need to improve on as far as being consistent," Walton said. "Both kids understand that, and we'll see how things shake out the next couple weeks."