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Flames Position Previews: Special Teams

August 30, 2009  Lynchburg, Va.  RSS
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Matt Bevins is one of several returning kickers who will help the Flames special teams units in 2009.

Matt Bevins is one of several returning kickers who will help the Flames special teams units in 2009.

Today, closed out its Flames Position Previews segments, as part of its Countdown to Kickoff coverage, by taking a look at Liberty's special teams units.

Head coach Danny Rocco's "special forces" have played a large role in his squad success since taking over the program following the 2005 season. The three-time Big South Coach of the Year is hoping the tradition continues in 2009, with a returning group of kickers and several new kick returners.

Special Teams
The Flames' special teams have certainly lived up to their name in recent years and the 2008 season was not any different.

The Flames were one of the nation's best punt and kickoff return teams in the nation in 2008. Liberty ranked No. 12 nationally in average punt return yardage (14.16), while individually, Dominic Bolden ranked No. 3 nationally in the statistical category.

The Sports Network third-team All-America punt returner averaged 18.12 yards per return and was one of one eight players nationally to return more than one punt for a touchdown, as two of his 17 punt returns on the year went for a score.

Bolden and Jonathan Crawford shared kickoff return duties, enabling Liberty to finish the year ranked No. 21 as a team by averaging 22.05 yards per return. Crawford followed suit with Bolden and was ranked No. 31 in the nation, while scoring once on his 19 returns during the course of the year.

Senior leadership helped the Flames excel in the return game, but younger players took over the reins in the kicking game.

Matt Bevins was a three-time Big South Freshman of the Week honoree, as he finished third on the team in scoring with 56 points. That figure was is good enough for the fifth-most points scored in a season by a freshman in program history. He was 12-of-16 on field goal attempts, which ranks third-best in program history for total field goals in a season, and was 20-of-21 on point after attempts.

"When you look at our kicking game, I'm excited about a number of things," commented Rocco. "First and foremost, Matt Bevins is back for his second year and Matt is a very talented player. He will handle a majority of our kickoffs, if not all of them, and most of the field goals, as well."

Battling for time on short-yardage field goals and extra points will be Ben Shipps and Paul Young. Shipps had a solid year in 2008, connecting on 18-of-19 PATs and 5-of-6 field goals to finish fifth on the team with 33 points. Young suffered a season-ending injury during the second game of the year, but looks to be fully healthy coming into 2009.

Returning for his second year as the Flames' projected punter is Mike Larsson, who also suffered an injury midyear that left him out of four games. During his eight games of action, Larsson averaged 35.6 yards per punt (17 punts, 605 yards). Bevins handled punting duties while he was gone, averaging 40.9 yards per punt (14 punts, 572 yards).

"Last year, our kicking game was really up in the air, but I think going into the 2009 season, we are as far along as we have ever been," stated Rocco. "We have some capable quality guys in place, guys that have some experience, but fortunately for us they are still young and could have some very bright futures."

The kick return duties will fall into the hands of some of the fastest guys the program has seen in recent years. Mike Brown is slated to lead a group that do includes Jimmy Eden, Ervin Garner, B.J. Hayes and Aaron Hewlett, giving Liberty some definite potential in the return game.

Special Teams at a Glance
Special Teams Depth Chart
Matt Bevins (So., 6-2, 185)

Ben Shipps (R-So., 6-0, 155)
Paul Young (Jr., 6-2, 180)
Mike Larsson (So., 5-10, 170)

Matt Bevins (So., 6-2, 185)
Robby Cramer (Fr., 6-1, 225)
Mike Brown (R-So., 6-0, 195)

Chris Rocco (Sr., 5-10, 200)
Mike Brown (R-So., 6-0, 195)

Ervin Garner (So., 5-9, 165)
Jimmy Eden (R-Fr., 5-10, 175)
Aaron Hewlett (R-Sr., 5-7, 165)
Mike Brown (R-So., 6-0, 195)
Aldreakis Allen (Fr., 6-0, 225)
Ervin Garner (So., 5-9, 165)
Aaron Hewlett (R-Sr., 5-7, 165)