Aug. 27, 2014
BEAUMONT, Texas -
In 2013, Lamar football produced one of the best special team units in program history. Return specialist Kevin Johnson
was named CFPA National Punt Returner of the Year, senior Kollin Kahler
was considered the top punter in the Southland Conference, four-year starting deep snapper Chris Maikranz
was named to two All-America squads and freshman kicker Alex Ball
proved he had a big-time leg and wasn't afraid of pressure situations going a perfect 7-of-7 on field goals.
Headlining Lamar's special teams this year will be preseason All-America selection Kevin Johnson. One of the school's all-time great returners, Johnson has been named to several preseason All-America squads following year that saw him return two punts for touchdowns. He also set a single-season school record with 841 kick return yards in 2013.
"Kevin is a very special player, and has the ability to impact the game in all areas," said Woodard. "He has turned the momentum of games just by what he does for us on special teams. I'm really excited to see what he will do not only as a returner but in our secondary this year."
Due to Johnson's efforts, Lamar finished the year ranked second nationally in punt return average. He separated himself in the school record books last season by becoming just the second Cardinal in program history to return two punts for scores in the same season. He needs only one more return for a score to become the first Cardinal to return three punts to the end zone in a career.
In addition to Johnson, Cardinal fans should expect to see sophomore Michael Handy return some kicks. A versatile receiver, Handy also returned kicks for Lamar last season, and averaged better than 21 yards per return on his two attempts. Fresno State transfer Devonn Brown will serve as Johnson's backup on punt returns.
Although the Cardinals return several key figures on special teams, they have been busy since they final horn sounded last season looking to replace several key figures. Maikranz was the team's long snapper since the program returned to Lamar, and never recorded a bad snap. Both Maikranz and Kahler are out of eligibility. To make matters a little more stressful, Kahler was also the team's holder last season.
"For four years, I haven't had to worry about our snapper or our punter," said head coach Ray Woodard. "Chris (Maikranz) never made a bad snap in four years and Kollin (Kahler) was arguably the best punter in school history.
"Because of how good Maikranz was we felt it was necessary to go out and recruit two long snappers. It is a position you don't think about until things go wrong. I've been around teams where the long snapper was a problem and that is not a situation I want to be around again which is why we brought in two very talented guys," added Woodard.
Corinth, Texas native Brent Nicholson will be the top candidate to replace Maikranz. The 6-2, 240-pound product comes to Beaumont with an edge experience coming from the junior college ranks. Nicholson will be backed up by freshman Zack Roberts (6-2, 235) from Magnolia, Texas.
Entering fall camp, Ball was the clear leader to return as the team's starting kicker, but Lamar's plan nearly got derailed during fall camp. The Cards entered camp with three kickers, but less than two weeks in LU was down to one - leaving sophomore Juan Carranco as the lone kicker. That presented another issue because Carranco was also slated to be the team's holder.
The good news for Lamar is the situation began to clear up as the red and white entered game week preparation. Ball is once again healthy, which allows Carranco to be the holder. Redshirt freshman Judge Wolfe will serve as the backup holder.
The battle to replace Kahler at punter has come down to the final week of camp. Carranco and Ball have been battling it out for the top spot there as well, along with redshirt freshman Josh Davis. A highly-touted kicker coming out of high school, Davis has been sidelined by injuries during the spring.
"We knew coming into the season we would have to replace several guys," said Woodard. "That's why we have paid a lot of attention to special teams. We want them to ready to go by the time Grambling State gets here. That's been the plan from day one, and they are progressing to that goal."