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Top 10 FCS special teams players

By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - You might think a place-kicker who often faces pressure-packed situations would do something in his leisure time that's a little less stressful than golf.

But while golf sometimes brings out the worst in people, it sure helps bring out the best in Matt Bevins' kicking results.

"Pretty much (in) golfing you honestly do not have to hit the ball as hard as you can to get it to go far," the Liberty University senior-to-be said. "If you hit it in the sweet spot of the ball on the perfect swinging plane, you're going to hit a great golf ball. And it's the same with kicking. If you take a nice, fluent swing, hit the sweet spot on your foot with the football, it's going to go just fine for you."

The proof is in Bevins' remarkable career. He's been The Sports Network/Fathead.com FCS All-America first-team kicker in each of the past two seasons and headlines the FCS Top 10 special teams list as he moves into his final season.

Bevins has been consistent throughout his career, making 54-of-69 field-goal attempts (78.3 percent) and 106-of-109 extra-point attempts (97.2 percent). The native of Newport News, Va., ranks first in Liberty history with 268 career points.

Standing 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, Bevins isn't the average kicker. Not only does he look different than many kickers, but he thinks a little differently, often referring to his job as "an art".

He hopes this year's final masterpiece will be Liberty's first FCS playoff berth. Over the last four seasons, the Flames have gone a combined 34-11 and won or shared each Big South Conference title, but have fallen short of a playoff berth each time. The conference earned an automatic bid for its champion for the first time last season, but Coastal Carolina captured it through a tie-breaker with fellow champions Liberty and Stony Brook.

Matt Bevins has been The Sports Network/Fathead.com FCS All-America first-team kicker in each of the past two seasons.
"We're in the situation where if we win the Big South outright, nobody can deny us that opportunity to play in the postseason. That is definitely our goal," Bevins said.

"It's definitely something that's been all over our minds, getting into the postseason. We want to show other teams what we're really capable of. That's pretty much our motivation."

Mike Brown is Liberty's driving force as its All-America quarterback. But he also has been Bevins' place-holder in each of the last two seasons. Long snapper Richard Wright also is returning this season, so there's a good chance a lot will remain on target for Bevins.

Bevins has a favorite kick in each of his first three seasons. He beat Youngstown State with a field goal as time expired in his freshman season in 2008. As a sophomore, he connected on a 49-yard field goal as 57,950 looked on at West Virginia. Last season, he drilled a career-best 52-yarder at Coastal Carolina and felt it could have been good from 60 yards out

"I'm here at school now working on strength and conditioning. This is a very important time of the year. This is the offseason, this is the time you get stronger and you get better," Bevins said.

"I've got one more year to go and I'm going to give it my best shot and kind of see what happens from there. I would love to play in the NFL one day. It was one of the goals that I had coming in. I would love to play professional football of some kind, whether it's NFL or Canadian league or so forth.

"Hopefully I can add another All-America to my accolades and catch the eye of many scouts."

It should be a particularly strong season for place-kickers in the FCS.

Here are nine more special teams players who are part of The Sports Network's FCS Preseason Top 10:

Shawn Abuhoff, Dartmouth, PR, Sr., 5-11, 190 - Not surprising for an Ivy Leaguer, Abuhoff makes good decisions. He's an excellent cornerback, but even better on punt returns. He was the only FCS player to return three punts for touchdowns last season, averaging 17.2 yards per return while making The Sports Network/Fathead.com FCS All-America first team. His range makes it hard for opposing teams to kick away from him. Once he has the ball in his hands, his quick feet help him to break away from defenders.

Carlos Anderson, Northern Iowa, KR, Jr., 5-8, 172 - Look no further than Anderson for the Missouri Valley Conference's 60-meter indoor champion in 2011. He puts his speed to good use all over the field - as a rusher, pass catcher and kickoff returner. Last season, he averaged 27.2 yards per return, including a pair of returns for touchdowns. He was named the All-Missouri Valley Football Conference first-team return specialist.

Zach Brown, Portland State, PK, Jr., 6-1, 180 - An excellent athlete, Brown is kicking his way toward a possible NFL future. On field goals, he is an impressive 15 of 18 from 40-49 yards through two seasons. His career long is a 53-yard field goal. He was 18 of 26 overall last season - matching his school record for field goals in a season - and was perfect on extra points, which lifted him to 44-for-44 through two seasons. He's a consistent kicker with a big foot.

Top 10 Specialists' Spotlight Game
Shawn Abuhoff, Dartmouth: Oct. 1 vs. Penn
Carlos Anderson, Northern Iowa: Oct. 29 at North Dakota State
Matt Bevins, Liberty: Sept. 17 vs. James Madison
Zach Brown, Portland State: Oct. 29 at Eastern Washington
Jeremy Caldwell, Eastern Kentucky: Nov. 5 at Jacksonville State
Gralyn Crawford, Stephen F. Austin: Sept. 24 vs. Texas State
Jason Cunningham, Montana State: Sept. 24 at Eastern Washington
Dontrell Johnson, Murray State: Oct. 29 vs. Eastern Kentucky
David Harrington, Idaho State: Sept. 3 at Washington State
Tavoy Moore, Idaho State: Oct. 8 vs. Montana
Jeremy Caldwell, Eastern Kentucky, KR/PR, Sr., 5-10, 183 - A two-time All-Ohio Valley Conference first-team cornerback who had seven interceptions as a sophomore in 2009, Caldwell also is lights out on kickoff and punt returns. Last season, Caldwell was second to Delaware State's Larrone Moore with a 33.7-yard kickoff return average, including two returns for touchdowns, and averaged 15 yards on 13 punt returns (which would have ranked fifth nationally if he had one more return), with one touchdown. He is explosive once he gets the ball in his hands.

Gralyn Crawford, Stephen F. Austin, KR, Jr., 5-10, 175 - Crawford is a possession receiver who goes across the middle in SFA's no-huddle attack, but he's a breakaway threat on special teams. Last season, he returned three kickoffs for touchdowns, while averaging 28.1 yards on 37 returns, and made The Sports Network/Fathead.com FCS All-America first team. Fair catches aren't his speciality on punts as he isn't afraid to get hit. He returned one punt for a touchdown.

Jason Cunningham, Montana State, PK, Sr., 6-1, 175 - Montana State has done well with recruiting in Texas and Cunningham is one of the finds. He tied Bevins for the FCS high with 20 field goals last season, and he was more accurate in 24 attempts (83.3 percent). His long was 55 yards. He earned second-team honors on The Sports Network/Fathead.com FCS All-America Team. He's a fourth-year starter, but last year he struggled through his worst season on PATs, going 42 of 48.

Dontrell Johnson, Murray State, PR, Sr., 5-11, 180 - A defensive back, Johnson usually makes tackles. On punt returns, he sidesteps them. Johnson averaged more on punt returns than kickoff returns last season - a scintillating 22.8 yards to lead the FCS. He returned a punt for a touchdown in back-to-back games against UT Martin and Jacksonville State. He has terrific instincts and is fearless against the approaching coverage. He was named to The Sports Network/Fathead.com FCS All-America second team.

David Harrington, Idaho State, P, Sr., 6-3, 185 - Harrington consistently provides the Bengals' defense with good field position. Twenty of his 60 punts went for at least 50 yards and he averaged a FCS-best 44.35 yards per punt. The hang time of his punts help set him apart, but he also is strong with directional punting. A former junior college transfer, he spent the 2009 season as a redshirt at Tennessee. Last season, he made The Sports Network/Fathead.com FCS All-America second team.

Tavoy Moore, Idaho State, KR/PR, Sr., 5-7, 195 - Coupled with Harrington, Moore gives Idaho State an exceptional special teams tandem. Last season, Moore became the first player in Big Sky history to return both kickoff and punt returns for touchdowns in the same game two different times - against Northern Colorado and Montana. He averaged 18.3 yards on punt returns and 24.1 yards on kickoff returns. The playmaker has shifty feet and is hard to catch once he has a step on an opponent. A third-team choice on The Sports Network/Fathead.com FCS All-America Team, he was fifth nationally in all- purpose yards per game (184.9).

Specialists on the cusp: Charlie Edwards, Georgia Southern, P, Jr., 5-11, 209; Gary Hunter, Dayton, KR, So., 5-9, 190; Adrian Mora, Georgia Southern, PK, Jr., 5-11, 199; Jonathan Plisco, Old Dominion, P, Jr., 6-0, 220; Cole Zwiefelhofer, South Dakota, P, Jr., 6-3, 206.

Sacks or scores, contact Craig Haley at
chaley@sportsnetwork.com.


Follow Craig Haley on Twitter and Facebook.

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