Penn football looks to settle special teams spots


The Quakers have three veterans battling at kicker and two freshmen competing at punter


08242014_footballmediaday2_copy

Freshman Brock Elmore stepped onto campus fighting for the starting punting spot for Penn football.

Photo by Michele Ozer


For Penn football, the quarterback position is decided. Most other offensive positions have also been decided. So have most of the defensive positions.

But special teams remains wide open, a group that is often the least heralded part of the program yet still holds significance for the Red and Blue.

The Quakers are going into the final weeks before their season starts with battles still going on for the kicker and punter positions. Senior Connor Loftus , junior Jimmy Gammill and sophomore Aron Morgan are all working to earn the job as placekicker while two freshmen — Hunter Kelley and Brock Elmore try to secure the starting job at punter.

The placekicker competition features two more experienced athletes in Loftus and Gammill. Loftus has been the Quakers’ starting kicker during his first three seasons at Penn, while Gammill handled kickoffs early in the 2013 season before going down with an injury, missing all but two games.

“I had a pretty rough injury,” Gammill said. “It’s kind of rough to miss the whole season, but I’m back. I’m back and better than ever, so it is tough to rehab and do all of that, but it’s good to be back on the field and back in the thick of things.”

Now the two are battling with Morgan for a placekicking spot that coach Al Bagnoli said was “wide open.” Morgan missed his only field goal attempt last year, while Loftus struggled by going just 4-for-12 on his kicks.

“We’ve all been working hard,” Gammill said. “It’s a little interesting to work [with Loftus and Morgan]. It is an individual spot but we are still teammates, so there’s a balance between competing and staying as a team.”

The other battle pits two newcomers against each other with Kelley and Elmore. Last season, punting duties were handled by a tandem of underclassmen, with then-sophomore Max Kurucar, now a member of the DP’s marketing staff, taking most punts and then-freshman Donald Panciello occasionally kicking the ball away.

Kurucar has since left the program, while Panciello is projected to start at linebacker in his second season (he also played some linebacker last year).

Unlike Panciello, Elmore and Kelley were recruited to play special teams, earning high praise from Bagnoli on media day, who compared the two players to former Penn punter Scott Lopano . Lopano stood out at punter, finishing as Penn’s all-time leader in career punts and punt yardage while earning first-team All-Ivy honors in 2012.

“We have two freshmen that I think ultimately are really talented,” Bagnoli said. “You hate to do it, because he had such a stellar career, but go back to Scott Lopano as a freshman. He hit the ball well. He takes it seriously.

“He was always looking to improve, and I think we have two guys like that, so they’re battling it out.”

However, Bagnoli also admitted that Penn’s punting situation was “the most unsettled” of its competitions. Despite the position battle, Kelley and Elmore are working together as they begin their freshman year.

“It’s challenging,” Elmore said of the competition. “Hunter Kelley, the other freshman punter, he’s pretty good, and it’s fun competing. A lot of punting is competing with yourself and trying to get better, so we try to help each other out.

“It will be interesting to see who ends up with the starting spot though.”

The one special teams spot that is settled is long snapper. After Spencer Kulcsar , one of the Quakers’ senior wide receivers, handled long snapping duties last season, the coaching staff recruited freshman Zach O’Leary to take over at the spot.

But for the Red and Blue, special teams remains a spot to keep an eye on.

Discussion

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.