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2010 Preview: Special Teams

Eric Stephens led all Big 12 players averaging 26.5 yards per return in league play
Eric Stephens led all Big 12 players averaging 26.5 yards per return in league play

Aug. 27, 2010

video camera Special Teams Preview will be giving Red Raider fans exclusive access all week long as we preview the upcoming football season, position-by-position. Each day we will feature a different position and will provide insider access to the assistant coaches who have been working with these players each and every day.  Assistant coaches are not made available to the general media so will be providing fans with these exclusive interviews.

One of head coach Tommy Tuberville's top priorities during training camp has been on the play of his special team's unit. Teams that win consistently don't make very many mistakes in the kicking game. Tuberville and the Red Raiders have reason for optimism with this year's group as many returners highlight the special team's core.

"Special teams are huge for our entire team," Tuberville said. "Special teams can set the tone of the game. We have worked very hard at it and we will continue to."

Place kicker Matt Williams is back for his senior season after knocking home 11-of-14 field goals and connecting on 60-of-61 PATs. Junior kicker Donnie Carona handled the kickoff duties last season where he collected 17 touchbacks, averaging 64.9 yards per kick on 84 kickoffs.

Two punters entered camp battling for the starting role after sophomore Ryan Erxleben averaged 40.8 yards per punt (long - 55 yards) last season and senior punter Jonathan LaCour held the starting job in 2008 while averaging 37.1 yards per punt on 25 attempts.

The top kick return man for Texas Tech is sophomore Eric Stephens, who etched his name in the Red Raider record books as a freshman with a school-record 823 return yards last season. In fact, Stephens also broke the school's all-time single-game record with 182 return yards against Texas.

Two years ago senior Matt Williams was among the many Texas Tech students who were wondering where they would be sitting on game day to cheer on the Red Raiders. But it was after Tech's third home game of the season that Williams all of a sudden had a new seat at home games at Jones AT&T Stadium. Williams, who was just a Tech student entering the 2008-09 school year, came out of the stands to kick a 30-yard field goal during an in-game promotion. He won free rent for a year, but turned the prize down and later was asked to join the team as a walk-on. Not only did he join the team, Williams - the following week - hit 9-of-9 PATs during Tech's 63-21 win at Kansas in his first collegiate game which helped him receive the AT&T All-America Player of the Week Award. He joined Michael Crabtree and Graham Harrell as the only Tech players to win the weekly award that season. In his two seasons at Tech, Williams is 13-of-17 in field goals and has made 93-of-94 PATs.

Ranked as the No. 4 "Best-in-Space" running back in the nation coming out of high school, Eric Stephens proved his ability at making opponents miss early in his Texas Tech career. His 32 kick returns broke a school record while he averaged 25.7 yards per return to rank fourth in the Big 12 Conference. Stephens led all Big 12 freshman averaging 100.6 all purpose yards per game during conference play. His 26.5 yards per kick return during league play led the conference. Stephens will look to repeat his efforts in special teams, but his productivity in the backfield will also look to increase this season as well.

Not only did Austin Zouzalik and Detron Lewis combine for 100 catches and eight touchdowns as wide receivers last season, they are now back and ready to lead the Red Raiders' punt return team. Zouzalik led the team last season with 21 returns and collected 201 yards (9.6 average) on the season. Lewis, who did not return a kick last season, has been working as a punt returner during camp and is expected to be one of the top targets for starting quarterback Taylor Potts this season from his receiver position. Lewis has been named to the prestigious Biletnikoff Award Watch List for the second consecutive season. The award is given annually to the top wide receiver in the nation.

Memorable special team moments come when least expected, this season Texas Tech's special teams squad will look to break a few streaks that currently exist with the Red Raider football team in special teams category. The one standout special team moment that happened most recent was in the Alamo Bowl when Daniel Howard blocked a Michigan State field goal with 2:48 before halftime.

- Had a kickoff return for a touchdown: 2002, Vincent Meeks at Oklahoma (98 yards)... 90 games ago
- Had a punt return for a touchdown: 2008, Eric Morris at Nevada (86 yards)... 24 games ago
- Had a blocked punt: 2009, Jared Flannel vs. North Dakota... 12 games ago
- Had a blocked punt for a touchdown: 2005, Brandon Douglas vs. Indiana State (2-yard return)... 61 games ago
- Had a blocked field goal for a touchdown: 2000, Aaron Hunt vs. Oklahoma State (79-yard return)... 117 games ago



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