Apr 27, 2010
Kicking around with the specialists
by Ryan Carr
As the offense and defense split into meetings to prepare for the day’s practice, a group of specialists make their way downstairs in the Williams Football Operation Center to hang out and get ready and prepare for practice on their own.
Specialists play a vital role in the success of any football team. They handle all of the kicking, punting and long snapping during a game. Specialists are important, but usually only gain negative attention.
“No one ever hears anything about a kicker unless he does something bad,” Special Teams Coordinator Marshall Roberts said.
This group gained recognition for their performance last year on the field. Junior kicker Matt Bevins was named a first team All-American by the Associated Press Football Champion Subdivision and Walter Camp Football Foundation Football Championship Subdivision. Bevins was also first-team all-conference for the Big South while junior punter Mike Larsson made the second-team all conference.
Most impressive about the specialists is not their talent or accomplishments, but their friendship and ability to compete.
Redshirt junior kicker Ben Shipps and sophomore long-snapper Robby Cramer completes this group of friends.
“We all think alike. I think for the most part having the same position we all get the same ridicule and stuff from teammates and it bonds us together,” Shipps said.
The bond is deepened by the player’s abilities to compete with one another, sharpening each other in their positions.
“If we didn’t have anyone to compete with we wouldn’t try to work harder for our game. If we didn’t compete then we would just go out there like, ‘Oh I already have the job I don’t need to work hard today,” Bevins said.
The group is able to use their friendship as a way to stay motivated, stay loose and keep everyone relaxed and performing at their best. Cramer and Shipps agree that while Larsson is the quietest out of the group he is the biggest instigator.
“Mike is the quiet instigator, he’s not too vocal but he’ll interject. He knows what buttons to push on Matt and myself a lot of times so it’s very effective but he is a man of few words,” Shipps said.
Larsson acknowledges this accusation as he recalls a recent kickoff drill with a smile.
“Shipps hit the ball way higher and I was like ‘Matt I bet you can’t kick it as high as Shipps’ and then they argued about it for an hour after that,” Larsson joked.
While they all have a lot of fun joking around and playing pranks on one another they all know when it is time to be serious.
On game days, the specialists stay huddled together around the kicking net, getting ready for their next opportunity on the field. During a punt or field goal, whoever is not in the game watches and evaluates from the sideline.
“They do exactly what you ask them to do. Those are the kinds of kids that keep you in coaching because you really enjoy watching them have a great relationship together,” Roberts said.
The highlight for everyone comes during team meals before games when the specialists are treated to “Story Time with Ben Shipps.” While the rest of their teammates are in meetings, the kickers relax, hang out and tell stories.
“The one story that stuck out the most was when he wrestled an alligator and flipped it upside down and tickled its stomach until it fell asleep. I still have a hard time believing that to this day,” Bevins said, who also claims that Shipps tells stories about his brothers and says he did it.
“I tell them the real story and it seems to get twisted and blown out of proportion as they are retold here. I don’t tell lies in these stories. I have a good time because most of my stories revolve around my family,” Shipps claims.
As the Liberty football team prepares to chase after it’s fourth straight Big South Championship, you can bet that this group of friends will be right in the middle of things making plays on the field and making jokes with one another off the field.
Contact Ryan Carr at
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