MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — WVU’s special teams unit was the deciding factor in a few games for the Mountaineers last season.
Now the program is tasked with replacing a number of starters in that phase, including Casey Legg, one of the top kickers in WVU history.
Legg did have an additional year of eligibility at his disposal but announced his retirement from the game in the offseason.
He finished his career No. 7 in school history in field goals (40), No. 8 in kick scoring (208) and No. 10 in extra points made (88).
The Lou Groza semifinalist won two games for West Virginia last season as time expired.
Florida State transfer Parker Groathaus handled the kickoffs in 2022. In his lone season in Morgantown, he averaged 60.1 yards on 64 kickoffs with 23 touchbacks.
Redshirt junior Michael Hayes and redshirt sophomore Danny King are now battling for the kicking duties this spring.
Hayes transferred from Georgia State where the handled the team’s field goals, punts and kickoffs last year. He made 11-of-14 field goal attempts and hit 41-of-42 extra point attempts.
“He’s got experience. He’s kicked in a live setting, big crowd, big atmosphere,” special teams coordinator Jeff Koonz said of Hayes. “Danny King is competing with him and having his best spring that he’s had since I’ve been here. I’m excited.”
While Hayes averaged 42.0 yards on 56 punts, Oliver Straw returns for the Mountaineers after a successful freshman campaign.
Straw averaged 60.1 yards on 64 punts with 23 touchbacks. His longest punt was 63 yards and he pinned the opponent inside the 20 on 18 occasions.
“He has the ability to do so many things, but to ask a first-year player in Power 5 football and the Big 12 Conference to go do all of those things at an elite level, it’s not fair to him. We’ll be able to add a little more on him, be able to move the launch point a little more,” Koonz said.
According to Neal Brown, redshirt junior Leighton Bechdel is putting together a good spring at the position. The head coach also said Austin Brinkman has a chance to be “as good as anybody in the country” long snapping.
“They have a moxie together right now that is really, really special,” Koonz said of Straw and Brinkman. “For them to get that as quickly as they did when Ollie got here was invaluable to us to as a unit.”
When it comes to the kicking competition, Koonz said the decision comes down to who can put it between the uprights, in the end zone on kickoffs and has the best hang time.
While it seems simple enough, there’s actually a lot more that goes into the preparation. That’s where WVU’s new technology comes in.
The TrackMan system is a key piece in recruiting that sets the program apart. It was created to help golfers work on their shot and can also be just as effective for kickers working on the progress of their swing on kicks.
“We’re one of the only schools in the country that has that. These guys can see the difference in leg speed, strike, where they hit the ball, how far it went, where it would have been good from,” Koonz said.
The biggest benefit of the TrackMan system is instant feedback. The results can now be viewed in real-time instead of watching tape and waiting a few days to correct issues.
The new technology does give WVU an advantage when getting specialists to Morgantown and so does its history of success at those positions.
“Being able to come and kick in the atmosphere we have in Morgantown is something that draws kids here. I’d be naive to think kids don’t come here to be the next Pat McAffe,” Koonz said.
“He’s done a great job in his career as a kicker and punter and what he’s doing now. He’s part of our history here.”