Even Kansas QB Jason Bean is getting involved with revamped Jayhawk special teams
Kansas special teams coordinator Taiwo Onatolu does not yet know who will be KU’s field goal kicker next season.
Still, he’s feeling good.
It’s a far cry from last season, as Kansas ranked last in the Big 12 in field-goal percentage (53.8%). KU started the season with Jacob Borcila, who was replaced midseason by Owen Piepergerdes.
In the offseason, the Jayhawks picked up two kickers from the NCAA transfer portal: Seth Keller of Texas State and Charlie Weinrich of Nebraska.
Even after 10 spring football practices, the competition for starting kicker role is fierce.
“If you were to ask me today: Who is the starting field goal kicker?” Onatolu said Tuesday. “I couldn’t tell you because it’s that close. We’ve been charting all of it. It’s gonna go on throughout the summer. Its gonna go on throughout the fall camp. All I know is we are going to have three or four pretty good kickers. which is awesome.”
With the portal, the Jayhawks primarily looked for kicking accuracy — Keller made 87.5% of his field-goal attempts and 100% of his extra-point attempts last season.
Over his three seasons at Texas State, he made 86.6% of his field-goal attempts.
“We brought him in on a visit (Keller) and told him, ‘Hey, nothing is going to be given to you and you’re still going to compete with the guys we have,’” said Onatolu. “That was big for us and I think it raised the level of competition with the other guys in the room. All of a sudden, those guys improved.”
Kicker isn’t the only undecided special teams position — kickoff and punt returner spots are also wide-open.
“What we usually do every day is we start practice with working punt returners and kick returners,” Onatolu said. “We don’t have a lot of names yet. Everyone gets thrown back there because some guys don’t even know they can do it and they just have that natural skill set.
“I mean (Jason) Bean has been back there getting reps. So anyone that’s fast and can make a vertical move and catch the ball is going to be back there. We’ll know more a little bit at the end of spring ball once we start to whittle it down.”
Onatolu feels good about his special teams group overall.
“Yeah, you know, you never know till you line up day one and you kick off, but I think the guys (are) bought in and they’re feeling more comfortable schematically with the things we’re doing,” said Onatolu. “They’re seeing every season we’re trying to tweak things and make things better and make it more comfortable for them.
“So holistically, I think we are getting better. You bring in specialists to compete. We improved that and then everyone else kind of falls along.”
Ultimately, Onatolu believes special teams success aligns with coach Lance Leipold’s desire for the team to have quality depth.
“You want your best players on special teams; it’s a third of the game and it always kind of gets pushed aside,” Onatolu said. “The more depth we build … the more it’s like, ‘Hey, I’m not a starter — I’m not 1-A, but I am 1-B and I gotta get on the field.’ So if it’s special teams, it’s going to be that. The more depth we build on our team, the better our special teams holistically is.”