Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Special Teams Are Exactly That with Mu Coach

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Special Teams Are Exactly That with Mu Coach

Article excerpt

Senior Kyle Pooler has averaged 40.8 yards a punt in his University of Missouri career, despite a pesky handicap.

"I had never been taught how to punt; I just grabbed it and punted it," Pooler said. Laughing, he added, "Maybe they thought I was perfect."

There have been no such delusions since the inception of Larry Smith, who believes the punt, ho-hum, is the most dramatic play in football.

"You show me a play that averages 40 yards a play, offense or defense," he said. "There isn't any."

So Pooler, also MU's kicker, now is being lavished with attention by Smith himself. Smith, a punter at Van Wert (Ohio) High, learned the art from his high school coach, who had been influenced at a punting exhibition where the demonstrator made the football do everything but the loop-de-loop.

"There was some guy who used to be able to pop punts into a rain barrel," Smith said. "He could make the ball bounce to him, bounce away from him, bounce to the side. It all starts with where you follow through."

But Smith's fascination with the less celebrated part of the game isn't limited to the punt. He is, in fact, a special teams zealot who has been relentlessly preaching that aspect of the game to his first Missouri team.

"I tell them that special teams are the glue that holds the offense and defense together," Smith said. "Special teams is one-third of the whole pie. It's important, because there are three things that happen when the special teams run out on the field:

"Number 1, a change of possession usually occurs. Number 2, there's a large amount of yardage involved. And No. 3, there are more opportunities for big plays on special teams than in the other two phases (offense and defense) of football."

Missouri fans and players know that only too well. Over the last decade of losing seasons, the Tigers more often have been victimized by special teams play than prospered by it.

Who can forget the Jeff Jacke field goal attempt that clanged off an upright against Indiana in 1988? Or the nearly annual mayhem caused by Iowa State's special teams? Or the blocked Oklahoma State field goal that the Cowboys turned into a touchdown in 1992?

Last season alone, special teams played crucial roles in at least three Tiger games - twice to MU's benefit.

Mizzou had to settle for a tie with Southern Methodist when Pooler's 47-yard field goal attempt was blocked on the last play of a game. That game also featured MU's Clayton Baker being nabbed from behind with an open field in front of him after Mizzou blocked a Mustang punt. The Tigers defeated Oklahoma State after a successful fake punt dictated the complexion of the game. And MU defeated Iowa State on Pooler's field goal as time ran out.

"Special teams will make you or break you," said senior safety Andre White. "I love the game of football. …

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