WILLIAMSBURG — In his playing days, Kevin Lewis saw first-hand the importance of special teams. After all, he played for the master — Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, creator of “Beamerball.”
“They were the first to put all the facts and figures together about why it was effective and all that kind of stuff,” Lewis said. “They did their research. You’re better-suited to put your best players on special teams.
“Shoot, when I played there, Lee Suggs was on special teams, our star running back. (All-American defensive end) Corey Moore, he was blocking kicks. The emphasis we put on special teams was huge. We knew how it can affect the game.”
Today, as an assistant coach at William and Mary, Lewis is teaching what he learned. His kick-block team — Tyler Claytor and DeAndre Houston-Carson in particular — has been instrumental in the Tribe’s playoff run.
More than instrumental, actually. Consider the following two games:
Oct. 31 vs. James Madison. Claytor blocked two point-after kicks, one of which was returned by Houston-Carson for two points. Doing the math, that’s four points that swung from the Dukes to the Tribe. William and Mary won 44-41.
Nov. 28 vs. Duquesne. With the Tribe leading 31-24 in the third quarter, the Dukes lined up for a 24-yard field goal. In what looked like an instant replay from the Madison game — even occurring on the same end of the field — Claytor came up the middle to block the kick. Houston-Carson returned it 65 yards for a touchdown.
That was a 10-point swing. The Tribe won 52-49.
“That’s the game right there,” W&M coach Jimmye Laycock said.
Special teams have been special all the way around for W&M this season.
Nick Dorka has made 19 of 23 field-goal attempts and all 46 of his PATs. His field-goal accuracy (.826) is tied for second in the nation among kickers with at least 19 makes.
Hunter Windmuller is averaging 43.5 yards per punt, with 13 of his 38 kicks beyond 50 yards. Because the Tribe’s offense has been so efficient, he doesn’t have enough attempts to be listed among the NCAA leaders. If he was, he’d be 12th nationally and first in the conference.
Both were named first-team All-CAA.
“It’s flown under the radar how good they are,” Laycock said. “That’s something you don’t realize until you don’t have them — how good they are. You kind of take them for granted.”
DeVonte Dedmon scored touchdowns on both punt and kickoff returns. He’s averaging 25 yards per kickoff return, 16.4 yards per punt return. Not surprisingly, he was named the conference’s Special Teams Player of the Year.
Dorka has 31 touchbacks on kickoffs, and the Tribe is allowing 20 yards on those that are returned. The only group that has had concerns is the punt team. William and Mary is giving up an average of 23.4 yards on punt returns. And three touchdowns.
Like Beamer, his close friend, Laycock has long been a proponent of using starters on special teams. And making it a priority.
“We put a lot of emphasis on it,” said Peyton Gryder, who starts at defensive end and on the kick-block team. “Those coaches do a good job of reminding us that, hey, this is just as important, if not more important, than the offense and defensive plays.
“In the grand scheme of a game, obviously there are more offensive and defense plays, so when you do get the opportunity to go kick a field goal or run down on kickoff and make a big play, it can really swing the momentum and really set us up for a big win.”
Usually, you see kicks blocked by rushers off the edge. Claytor comes right up the middle, using his 6-foot-3, 295-pound body to somehow get in there.
“I don’t know how he slips through every time,” Tribe tailback Kendell Anderson said. “I mean, they have to watch film and say, ‘All right, he’s gonna do this, block him.’ ”
Indeed, Duquesne coach Jerry Schmitt watched the film. Still …
“He just got skinny and got in the backfield,” Schmitt said. “He does a really good job of it. Give him credit.”
Lewis learned at Virginia Tech that having good play on special teams isn’t exactly brain surgery.
“Most of it is putting the right guy in the right place,” he said. “We spend a lot of time talking about personnel and where they’d be effective. It’s more personnel than scheme, because it’s pretty simple.”
And pretty important.
Johnson can be reached by phone at 757-247-4649.
William and Mary (9-3) at Richmond (8-3)
WHEN: Noon Saturday.
RADIO: 950AM, 92.3FM, 93.1FM.
WHAT: FCS playoffs second round.
WHERE: Robins Stadium, Richmond.
OF NOTE: Richmond has won the last four games in the series, including 20-9 on Nov. 21 at Robins.