Aug. 19, 2012
BEAUMONT - At just 5-feet-5 and 130 pounds, VanLawrance Franks is the smallest player on the Lamar University football team. However, the senior from Austin managed to play huge last year as the Cardinals' primary kick returner.
Franks took over the starting return duties last year and finished as the sixth-best return man in the Southland Conference at 23.2 yards per return. Franks had a long return of 63 yards last year against Central Arkansas and will look to continue his success in his final year.
"I was waiting to take that starting role," said Franks. "I'm just a competitor so once I had that opportunity; I wanted to make the best of it."
Franks is able to learn under new special teams coach Dennis McKnight, a veteran of 11 NFL seasons who brings a wealth of knowledge to the kicking game. McKnight, who also coaches the offensive linemen for Lamar, has served as special teams coordinator at both SMU and Hawai`i.
"I believe all the way around for special teams, we have a greater emphasis on detail," said Franks about the impact of McKnight's coaching. "With Coach McKnight as our coach, and with the players we have, we should have a bigger impact on special teams. Not just on kick returns but in all of our kicking game and returning game. We should have a tremendous season this year."
Lamar has three kickers looking for playing time this year. Senior Juventino Sanchez and junior Justin Stout both saw time last year with Stout handling field goals and extra points and Sanchez getting most of the kickoff responsibilities. Former high school All-American Alex Ball will push both players this year.
After hitting 9-of-13 field goal attempts as a true freshman in 2010, Stout was 5-of-8 last year. The former West Mesquite High School star set a single-season school record with 35 extra point makes in 2011 and tied the Lamar mark with eight makes against Texas College in the season opener.
Sanchez appeared in nine games as a transfer last year after kicking the game-winning field goal for Navarro College as a sophomore in the junior college national title game. He finished the year with 33 kickoffs with eight going for touchbacks.
In Saturday's scrimmage, Stout hit on 3-of-4 field goal attempts, while Sanchez was 1-of-2. Ball did not dress for the contest.
Punter Kollin Kahler returns for his third season after earning honorable mention All-Southland Conference honors last year. Kahler, who has been named to the College Football Performance Awards Preseason Watch List, finished second in the Southland with a 42.3 yards per punt average in 2011.
Through his first two year, Kahler has a career average of 40.3 yards per punt to rank as the best career average in school history. Kahler boomed a career-long 72-yard punt at Southeastern Louisiana last year to tie for the third longest punt in school history.
Also returning for his third year is junior deep snapper Chris Maikranz. In two years, Maikranz has yet to suffer a miscue in the punting game. Redshirt sophomore Lawson Hartwick serves as the backup at deep snapper.
Often, the special teams' players are not noticed until they make a mistake. The courage it takes to play these positions is something that Franks embraces.
"Mistakes are going to happen but I try not to think about them," said Franks. "I really do want to be a spark for my team and I understand that my role is key to helping my team be successful. I always want to make the big play. In special teams, you don't get a second or third or fourth down. You have one chance to get it right, so you have to get it right the first time."
Lamar opens the season at Louisiana-Lafayette on Sept. 1 at 6 p.m. The Cardinals' home opener will be the following Saturday (Sept. 8) at 7 p.m. when Prairie View A&M visits Provost Umphrey Stadium. Lamar will host five games following the Prairie View A&M contest. Highlights of the home schedule include the homecoming contest against McMurray at 7 p.m. Oct. 13 and a Southland Conference game against national runner-up Sam Houston State at 3 p.m. Oct. 27.
Tickets can be purchased at the Montagne Center ticket office, by calling (409) 880-1715, or visiting www.LamarCardinals.com.