Meridian Star

October 8, 2013

EMCC puts ‘special’ in special teams

Tony Tsoukalas
The Meridian Star

SCOOBA — Life as a college kicker is full of tense moments and high-pressure expectations — that is unless you are a kicker for the East Mississippi Community College football team, then it’s mostly waiting and watching. 

    In six games this season, the Lions have attempted only three field goals. Despite its lack of action, EMCC’s special teams unit is not at a loss for talent. Freshman place kicker Drew White is third in the nation with 54 points capitalizing on the Lions high-flying offense by converting 51-of-55 extra-point attempts. He also serves as the team's punter averaging 41 yards a punt on the year.

    Kickoff specialist Morgan Rhodes has kept opposing special teams at bay, booming five touchbacks this season and only allowing 16.3 yards per return. Even long snapper Evan Grimes has excelled as he boosted his snap time to .71 seconds on punts.

    The group known by the team as the Scooba Tech Special Teams is not complaining though. The trio said they are perfectly fine with watching the Lions put up 50, 60 and 70 points a night from the sidelines.

    “It can get boring from time to time,” White said. “You are always waiting. But, as long as we are winning, I’m perfectly fine with kicking extra points.”

    While unknown to most, the group has made a big impact on the team this season, implementing a care-free attitude during practices and keeping the locker room loose and upbeat.

    “We try to lighten their practice a little bit,” Rhodes said. “We joke around with them, we mess with them and of course we say we are better than them at everything even though that's obviously not true.”

    Though one would not think a team that hardly kicks field goals would need two kickers, the combination of Rhodes and White has been crucial for the Lions this season. Because EMCC scores so much on offense, White said having a kicker to handle kickoffs after all his extra points helps him keep his leg fresh throughout the game. During the Lion’s 90-7 win over Coahoma, the team kicked off 14 times and attempted 13 extra points.

    The camaraderie exceeds past the playing field as the two share most of their non-playing time together as well.

    “We are good friends,” Rhodes said. “We pretty much stay in each other’s rooms talking about football and anything. We hang out all the time.”

    In an attempt to save their legs for games, both kickers have limited the amount of kicking they do in practice. The added free time gives them more time to not only mess around with teammates but also challenge each other to just about anything they can think of. The friendly rivalry has no boundaries, spanning from cross-bar hitting competitions to singing contest.

    “We compete more in non-kicking activities than we do in kicking activities,” White said. “In practice we come up with so many games and so many things to waste time that we normally just compete in those.”

    However, not every member of STST shares the same taste for the limelight. Grimes balances out the trio by providing a more humble approach and doesn’t mind blending in with the rest of the unit. The freshman's performance has done most of the talking for him this year as he has generated interest from Delta State, Mississippi College and Southern Miss.

    “I try to stay low-key just like any other long snapper,” Grimes said. “I don’t like many people knowing my name, because once people know the long snapper’s name it’s not a good thing.”

    STST’s fourth member is freshman long snapper Cooper Esslinger who sitting out this season while being medically red-shirted for an injured shoulder. While he won’t play for the Lions this year, Rhodes said Esslinger fits right into the group's mentality.

    “Cooper’s an odd ball,” Rhodes said. “He’s really funny. He tries to give us pointers even though he doesn’t know anything about kicking. Nowadays he goes around with the coaches and tells us what all the other players are doing and how we need to get better.”

     While the group said they have always be appreciated by the other members of the team, lately STST has received some recognition of its own. The group was on EMCC’s television show “Inside the Pride” and even has a Twitter handle @EMCCSpecialists.

    Although EMCC has yet to take the field for a clutch kick or punt this season, White said when that moment comes STST will be ready.

    Until then, the group has no problem playing second-fiddle to the nation’s leading offense as the Lions look to continue their run to a second NJCAA national championship.

    “As long as we win, we don’t care about punting or making field goals,” Grimes said. “As long as our offense is scoring and we are doing well as a team, the special teams can just be the punctuation mark on the end of a good drive.”