FACES IN THE CROWD: GROUP OF SPECIAL TEAMERS KEEPING THE FAITH THEY WILL PLAY FOOTBALL THIS YEAR
BERLIN: The pandemic has hit society in every aspect of life, including sports of course. There are a lot of dreams and future memories of these young people that are on hold or canceled.
Kickers, punters and long-snappers have a unique situation with regards to training and practicing their craft.
It is not unusual for players from several teams-high school and college-to get together to work on technique.
Footballstories caught up with a group working out at the 5-Star Kicking field in South Jersey under the direction of Rowan University kicking coach Jim Cooper. These guys are keeping the faith that they will have a season of some kind in 2020 or 2021.
The Villanova punter Nathan Fondacaro in 2019 recorded 43 punts for 188 yards, averaging 43.8 yards per punt. His longest for the year was 75 yards. His punts and outstanding coverage forced 12 fair catches. He did have one blocked
The 5-foot-10, 185-pound senior-to-be was named the First Team All Colonial Athletic Association punter.
There is a singular nature to being a punter. What draws someone to dive into that role on a football team?
“There's a lot of things that go into it, but I love doing it,” Fondacaro said during an interview at South Jersey practice field. “I've been doing it since I was eight years old. When I was eight, I went to my first game ever. I went to an Eagles game with my parents and we watched the kickers and punters and I just loved it. That's kind of why I got into it. Just seeing how far and high they kicked the ball. That was something I always wanted to do and continue to do.”
The Sewell, NJ resident talked about the all-or-nothing aspect of special teams. You’re a hero or goat, not much in between.
“That's exactly how it is,” Fondacaro said. “I mean, especially being a punter. It's one of those things where I guess you don't want too much attention because usually that means you're not doing good. Part of the deal is just doing my job and doing what I can to help so when I do my job, everybody's happy.
The St. Augustine Prep graduate said so much is up in the air with the season postponed. He said Wildcats head coach Mark Ferrante and his staff are keeping everyone engaged keeping the faith for a spring season.
“It really is a shame because we had a really great team this year,” Fondacaro said. “We had a lot of returning guys and we were going to be really good. Unfortunately, with everything going on this year, our season was cut short and that's mentally tough. A lot of things are in question now about whether we play in the spring and eligibility and other things like that. It's difficult, you have some guys leave because they need that opportunity to play somewhere else, like some of our fifth years. You hate to see them go, but at the same time, you know, they need that opportunity to play." ***************************
Tyler Kelly is an offensive lineman and long Snapper for Rowan University. The senior-to-be checked in at a healthy 6-3, 270 pounds.
In 2019 Kelly started in nine games on O-line and helped a Rowan offensive line that ranked third in the NJAC in rushing offense (151.6 ypg) and fourth in pass offense (189.5 ypg) .
A graduate of Delsea Regional High School, Kelly also talked about the all-or-nothing aspect of being part of the kicking unit, punting, extra points or field goals.
"It's a lot of preparation looking forward to the season and making sure that every snap counts,” the 21-yesar-old said. “You want to make sure you're not going through the motions on one, because if you just go through the motions on one, it's gonna be a bad snap and it's going to ruin the whole play.”
Kelly said he is watching and waiting to see how this season will unfold, if it unfolds at all.
“The goal is to hopefully play a shortened schedule in the spring,” said Kelly, a Monroeville, NJ resident. “But yeah, we're all canceled for the fall, we’ll play probably a four-game season, that's the goal, but we'll see what happens.”
Kelly was asked how deflating it is since he is a senior.
“I have some eligibility, I'll have some eligibility from this,” Kelly said. “I’m just trying to stay positive and control we can and just stay ready.” *************************
Sean Connelly is a two-way lineman for Lower Cape May High School. He is senior-to-be trying long snapping for the Tigers for the first time.
Connelly says he wants to play college football at the D-3 level but at 5-10, 210 pounds he needs another tool in his tool box to get noticed.
Connelly, who also wrestles for Lower Cape May, knows that even though New Jersey high schools are scheduled to start a six-game schedule on October 2, it could be pulled at any time. He said he is not bitter, but hates to see the state of things right now.
“It's just difficult, like to see everybody this way,” Connelly said. “The big things that are going on now are affecting the little things like obviously football. I hope we find a way to have a season.” *****************
SKYLER SHOLDER .
The 5-7, 155-pound freshman-to-be hopes to help the Vikings improve on their 4-5 record in 2019.
Sholder played for a Haddonfield youth group as an eighth grader. His community didn’t field a team. He played receiver and safety in addition to kicking. Will Sholder try out for those spots at Eastern?
No, I'm going to just make sure I kick and make sure I don't get hurt,” He said. “Because I've had my fair share of getting drilled. Let's just put it that way I've been playing football since I was five, and I've taken some big hits and some cheap ones too.” *
Follow Al Thompson Twitter @thompsoniii