As we wrap up our series previewing every unit group for the Jayhawks in 2018, we’re left with one key element: special teams. With David Beaty’s propensity to punt on fourth down regardless of where the Jayhawks are on the field or how well the defense is performing that day, no doubt whoever wins the punter job will have a decent crack at All-Conference honors.
I wish I were kidding.
Let’s take a look at what KU’s got in the kicking and return game for 2018.
Kansas currently has three kickers on the roster.
SR Gabriel Rui surprised some of us by winning the place kicking job out of fall camp last year, and ended up having a nice season. He connected on 17-20, including 10 of 40+ yards with a long of 50. Rui was the only Jayhawk to attempt a field goal in 2017. Rui came to KU as a Juco transfer in 2016, but did not get in any games that season.
SO Liam Jones came to KU with a lot of hype, but despite losing the PK job to Rui, Jones did take over the primary kickoff specialist role. In his true freshman season, Jones hit 48 kickoffs in 2017 with 17 touchbacks.
FR Cole Brungardt redshirted in 2017. A Lawrence native, Brungardt was a standout kicker for the Lions in his high school career.
The Jayhawks currently have two punters on the roster competing for the job following the departure of Cole Moos.
SO Kyle Thompson hit four punts in 2017 for Kansas with a 36.7 average. He redshirted in 2016 after winning a bunch of awards in high school (in California) for his kicking abilities.
SO Donovan Gagen transferred in this year from Hutchinson CC (KS). In 2017 he booted 53 punts with a 38.0 average, a long of 64, with 16 inside the 20-yard line, 15 fair catches, and 5 touchbacks.
SR Steven Sims Jr was KU’s primary punt returner in 2017, returning 12 punts for 77 yards. Sims was also back on kickoff returns, although teams usually kicked to the other side of the field, as he had just 14 returns averaging 25.3 yards.
SR Ryan Schadler returned 25 kickoffs for an average of 22.4 yards in 2017. Barring injury, I would anticipate Schadler being the primary kick returner again in 2018.
JR Daylon Charlot returned 4 kickoffs in 2017. He could once again be in the mix for kick/punt return duties. I also wouldn’t be too surprised to see FR Pooka Williams or SR Kerr Johnson back there, either.
The special teams coordinator in 2018 is Kenny Perry, who takes over from Joe Deforest after coaching the cornerbacks for the past couple of years. Perry came to KU from TCU where he also coached cornerbacks; prior to that he was a head coach in the Texas high school ranks. He is entering his fourth season at KU.
I think KU has plenty of depth and talent at both placekicker and returning kicks. The only real question mark is at punter, and that’s only due to the inexperience of the two sophomores competing for the job.
That said, KU has only had two kick return TDs (KO + punt) since 2011. I don’t have any other numbers to compare that against, but I’m guessing that’s pretty far down on the low end. As long as the Jayhawks can avoid muffs and fumbles, the unit should at least be serviceable for 2018.