In this ten-part series, we look at the starters and key players for each position. Starting today, we cover the special teams guys with kickers and punters.
Last Season: John Wallace was 15-of-21 last season, but missed two crucial late game field goals that would have tied the game against Houston and Clemson. He had a season-long of 50 yards and came close to hitting a 61-yard field goal against Auburn in the season opener. Wallace would sign an undrafted free agent deal with the Washington Redskins after completing his eligibility last season.
Josh Appleby received praise as a false Heisman hopeful and fan favorite, while averaging roughly 41 yards per punt and landing 28-of-69 inside the 20-yard line.
Heading into 2016: The kicker and punter positions will both see red shirt freshmen taking over for the Cardinals. Blanton Creque was listed as the starting kicker in the team’s depth chart released two weeks ago. Creque is a walk-on from Collins High School, where he hit 7-of-11 field goals during his senior season for the Titans. Creque also received offers as a preferred walk-on from Florida and WKU, and in a 2015 interview with the Courier-Journal, he mentioned that he can hit from 50+ yards consistently and has hit a 60-yarder in practice. Creque takes over as the starter after Evan O’Hara was the starter through most of spring practice, due to an injury Creque sustained.
The most interesting wrinkle on special teams was that cornerback Jaire Alexander was listed as the holder for placekicking. With Alexander’s raw speed and proven ability to avoid defenders in punt returns last season, this spot could open unique fake field goal plays. Alexander reprises a familiar role that former wide receiver Harry Douglas had in the Petrino 1.0 era at Louisville, where he was the holder for Art Carmody.
Along with Creque, Mason King will take over as the new punter. The St. X product comes from a lineage of former Cardinals, as his grandfather Bob played on the men’s basketball team from 1939-1941 and is a member of the U of L Hall of Fame. King has played well enough in spring practice to earn a starting job, but he’ll receive a tough challenge from true freshman Austin Johnson. Johnson, who is the younger brother of former U of L punter Ryan, brings an interesting skill set to the table, as he was the starting quarterback, as well as kicker and punter, for DeSales. The true freshman had over 2,000 total yards and 22 touchdowns in his senior season with the Colts, and was first team All-State in Kentucky as a punter.
Both Creque and King will see Colin Holba return as the long-snapper for Louisville. Holba is the only returning starter in the kicking game, and as a fifth-year senior, provides valuable experience in a group that will feature a lot of youth. Holba started all 13 games as the long-snapper last season, and at 6’5″, 245 lbs., has ideal NFL-size for the position. Having a long snapper with that kind of length and size is crucial for blocking and being able to run downfield to catch opposing returners.
Be sure to come back Friday, as we cover the guys that will be returning punts and kickoffs.