LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The importance of special teams can never be underestimated. Football games can be won – and lost – because of poor execution or critical mistakes in that phase of the game.
Heading into last season, there were many questions surrounding the special teams unit at the University of Louisville, with no experience returning at the punter or placekicker positions.
Those questions were answered immediately with the emergence of punter Mason King and kicker Blanton Creque – a pair of Kentucky natives.
Despite their lack of playing, the duo stepped in and calmed the nerves of the coaching staff by making this unit a strength of the team.
King, who hails from Louisville, never took a snap during the regular season until he punted in the season opener versus Charlotte. Even as newcomer, King emerged as the punter of the future, setting a school mark for punting average at 43.9 yards per boot.
Despite a 37.5 yards average in his first game, King continued to improve as the season went on, averaging over 40.0 yards a punt in seven games, including a 48.0 yards average in Death Valley versus Clemson and 49.3 yards a punt against Kentucky.
“I look back at all the work I put in, and Austin Johnson challenges me every day in practice,” King said, “which has made me a better punter. We challenge each other every practice and that’s what helps us kick so well.”
With all the success that King enjoyed last season, his biggest accomplishment is the fact that he was voted as one of the team’s seven captains last weekend. The St. Xavier High product, King and Devante Peete were named to lead the special teams.
“To be named a captain is an absolute honor,” King said after Wednesday’s practice. “To know that the players voted for me is an absolute honor to go out there, and I’m going to take advantage of that opportunity and let them know how valuable special teams are.
“I’m so excited for this season, especially after being named captain, which is something I never dreamed of.”
Creque took over the placekicking duties in the fourth game of the season, and never relinquished his starting opportunity, hitting 16-of-19 attempts – tied for the third-most in school history.
After missing one of his first two career attempts, Creque went on to connect on 10 straight, including tying a school record with four field goals in a win over NC State. He closed the year by going 3-for-3 in the Citrus Bowl loss to LSU, including hitting a career-best 47-yarder in the 29-9 loss.
“I had to make that jump last year, Creque said. “After a few games, I was able to zone in and treat every kick the same. In practice, I visualized that every kick I took was a kick in the game. My second game kicking was Clemson, so anything after that really didn’t faze me.”
There wasn’t a lot that Creque needed to improve on after missing three kicks all of last season, but he did need to figure out how to extend the ball to the end zone on his kickoffs.
“My kickoffs have been a big focus for me this offseason,” Creque said. “Right now in camp, I’m trying to make every kick. I’ve gotten stronger, which has been a big help for this so far during camp.”
Head coach Bobby Petrino spends a lot of time in practice focusing on special teams, which has paid off on game day, and Creque thinks the Cardinals will be even better this season.
“We are so deep this year,” Creque said, “that we will have a lot of guys playing on special teams. We emphasize it a lot in practice. The more time you spend on it, the better you will be. I think we have a chance to be very good on special teams this year.”