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Several programs have come to rely on the strong play of their special teams.
By BOB PUTNAM and BRANDON WRIGHT, Times Staff Writers
Published September 28, 2007
Coaches always preach the adage that special teams can make the difference in close football games.
It is especially true this season.
Consider the numbers. An average of 18 of the 82 plays per game this season were in the kicking game. Almost 30 percent of the yardage gained was accumulated on kickoff and punt returns. And nearly a third of the games this season have been decided by a touchdown or less.
So if that many games can be won or lost on the outcome of one play out of 82, it stands to reason that special teams can affect a game's outcome.
Perhaps no team has had better special teams play than Gibbs. The Gladiators have blocked two punts (one returned for a touchdown), three field goals and three extra points.
"You're going to run up against a team that's a little bigger, a little more talented sometimes," Gibbs coach Yusuf Shakir said. "Special teams can even that playing field out. It's all about effort."
The Gladiators have returned a fielded punt for a touchdown, leaving a kickoff return for a score about the only thing Gibbs hasn't excelled at on special teams.
"But, hey, that's a good thing," Shakir joked. "That means we've been playing good defense and haven't had many opportunities."
Special teams players often are unknown and underappreciated because there are no stats for things such as changing the tempo of a game and knocking an opposing team off its emotional high horse.
Boca Ciega did just that on its first play of the season, returning a kickoff for a touchdown against Dunedin.
"Special teams can make the difference, especially against good teams," Pirates coach Stevie Thomas said.
It's not just returns where Boca Ciega excels. The Pirates have a dependable weapon in kicker Randall Klafter, who has made seven field goals this season, including four against Lakewood in a 12-3 victorylast week.
"Without Randall, the outcomes of our games would have been different," Thomas said.
For years, Countryside and Clearwater Central Catholic have had the benefit of kickers with legs accurate and strong.
For example, former Cougars star Jon Peattie is at Miami and former Marauders standout Joey Ijjas is at Florida. (Ijjas' younger brother, Jeff, is now CCC's kicker).
Countryside and CCC are able to get quality kickers due in large part to the success of their soccer programs.
"It's a big advantage to have a quality soccer program and go from great kicker to great kicker," Marauders coach Mike Jalazo said. "People don't realize that soccer players also make good punters with tremendous hang time.
"It's just huge to have a kicker like that. It keeps you in games."