Throughout Liberty's preseason training camp, LibertyFlames.com will preview each position on the Flames' team, providing insight into the development of each group's players leading up to the Flames' season opener against Kent State on Aug. 29.
Today, we continue our position-by-position preview by looking at the Flames' special teams, including insight from head coach Turner Gill, senior punter Grant Bowden and sophomore kicker John Lunsford.
Last year, the Flames saw some fresh faces join the team at some key special teams positions, starting with kicker John Lunsford and punter Grant Bowden.
The pair was left with the tough task of replacing an All-American kicker in Matt Bevins and a two-time all-conference punter in Mike Larsson.
Lunsford and Bowden made the most of their freshman seasons, both earning Big South second-team all-conference honors.
Lunsford ranked second in the Big South in field goals (0.89 per game) and third in field goal percentage (7.50 percent/8-of-12). Four of his eight freshman field goals were for 40 or more yards, including a season-long 50-yard field goal at Coastal Carolina.
Bowden got stronger as the season progressed, finishing the year by grabbing the last two Big South Special Teams Player of the Week awards.
Bowden, a transfer from Virginia Tech, ranked second in the Big South by averaging 39.4 yards per punt (60 punts, 2,362 yards), while nearly a third of his punts pinned opponents inside the 20-yard line (18). He also had six punts sail 50 or more yards.
Centering the ball to both Lunsford and Bowden was three-year starting long snapper Richard Wright. The redshirt senior has had a banner career at Liberty that includes All-America honors in 2011 and All-Big South first-team accolades the last two seasons.
Kevin Fogg's return following a medical hardship is certainly a plus for the Flames' defensive backfield at cornerback, but it could pale in comparison for what it could do for Liberty's return units.
In 2011, Fogg led all FCS players in the country by returning three kickoffs for a touchdown and averaging 33.5 yards per kickoff return. He earned first-team All-America honors following his junior season from the Sports Network, College Sporting News and Walter Camp Foundation.
Fogg was off to another great return season in 2012, one that included a 77-yard punt return for a touchdown two games into the year against No. 24 Norfolk State. However, a non-contact injury during a light workout leading up to the Flames' Big South opener against Gardner-Webb, left the Flames' without their most potent return weapon the second half of the year.
The void did provide some other players with a chance to showcase their special teams abilities during the second half of the year in Fogg's absence.
Running back D.J. Abnar took over kickoff return duties from Fogg and averaged 27.5 yards per return (11 kickoff returns, 303 yards). If Abnar had met the NCAA's minimum returns per game standard, his average would have ranked No. 10 in the country.
Walt Aikens, Fogg's cornerback partner, was one of two players who helped return punts during the latter part of the season. Aikens had four punt returns for 42 yards, averaging 10.5 yards per return.
Special Teams Depth Chart
K John Lunsford (So., 6-1, 180) James Gregory (So., 6-0, 180)
P Grant Bowden (Sr., 6-3, 190) Trey Turner (Fr., 5-11, 195)
LS Richard Wright (R-Sr., 6-1, 260) Dylan Bowman (R-So., 6-3, 245)
H Javan Shashaty (R-Fr., 6-1, 165)
KR D.J. Abnar (So., 5-10, 185) Kevin Fogg (R-Sr., 5-10, 190) Walt Aikens (Sr., 6-1, 200) Clifton Richardson (Jr., 6-0, 210)
PR Kevin Fogg (R-Sr., 5-10, 190) Walt Aikens (Sr., 6-1, 200)
Full Training Camp Position Preview Schedule: Aug. 1 – Wide Receivers Aug. 5 – Defensive Line Aug. 7 – Quarterbacks Aug. 10 – Linebackers Aug. 12 – Tight Ends/Fullbacks Aug. 14 – Cornerbacks Aug. 19 – Safeties Aug. 21 – Offensive Line Aug. 23 – Special Teams Aug. 25 – Running Backs
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