2009 Outlook: Special Teams
Aug. 7, 2009
In 2008, Michigan State won nine regular-season games for the first time since 1999, made its first New Year's Day bowl appearance in nine years and finished No. 24 in the final Associated Press and USA TODAY Polls. The Spartans finished third in the Big Ten standings at 6-2 - their highest finish in the league standings since tying for second place in 1999 (6-2). MSU's only conference losses came against 2008 Big Ten co-champions Penn State and Ohio State.
This season, the Spartans welcome back 18 starters from last year's 9-4 team, including seven on offense, eight on defense and three specialists. With the pieces in place, the Spartans are poised for another run at a Big Ten championship in 2009.
As MSU gears up for training camp next week, head coach Mark Dantonio - who has won more games (16) than any Spartan coach in his first two years - takes a position-by-position look at the 2009 Spartans.
Returning for his fourth year as MSU's placekicker is All-America candidate Brett Swenson (5-8, 180, Sr.).
Swenson has already cemented himself as one of the top kickers in school history, and will look to continue his ascension in the Spartan record books his senior season. He ranks among Michigan State's all-time leaders in field goals (tied for third with 52), points scored (fourth with 276) and extra points (fifth with 120). Last season, Swenson tied an MSU single-season record with 22 field goals to tie for fourth most in the nation, including a stretch where he connected on a school-record 15 in a row.
The second-team All-Big Ten selection came through in the clutch on several occasions, perhaps none more so than his 44-yard field goal in the closing seconds of regulation that gave Michigan State the victory over Wisconsin. He was named Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week three times, the most of any conference kicker in 2008.
"One of the reasons we were so successful last year was because of Brett and what he was able to do," said Dantonio. "He has also added increased strength to his leg, which will only help him get even better this season."
The Spartans also return one of the top punters in the Big Ten, in junior Aaron Bates (6-0, 192). A second-team All-Big Ten selection by the media, Bates ranked fourth in the Big Ten and No. 30 in the nation with his 42.0-yard average as a sophomore. The two-year starter has averaged 40.9 yards on 140 career punts, with 45 of those punts (32 percent) falling inside the opponent's 20-yard line. In addition, he booted 15 punts 50 or more yards last season. Bates also serves as the holder on field goals and extra points.
"Aaron Bates has great nerves and does an unbelievable job," Dantonio said. "With the way he turns the ball over, it comes like a kickoff and as a result, he's been able to kick inside the 20 with regularity."
"Both Brett and Aaron are great young people who are dedicated to what they do," continued Dantonio. "They are extremely hard workers and push themselves, whether it's in winter workouts or on the field. They are role models for our guys."
At long snapper, Alex Shackleton (6-2, 245, Jr.) returns for his third season, adding experience and stability to the special teams unit.
"Alex has been a guy that continues to be right on the money," said Dantonio. "He will remain consistent for us."
On kickoffs, the Spartans will have to replace four-year letterman Todd Boleski. A number of candidates could take over the spot, including Swenson, Bates, red-shirt freshman Dan Conroy (5-10, 185) or incoming freshman Kevin Muma (6-0, 170).
"With his added strength, Swenson is capable of getting the ball inside the 5, and has very good hang time, maybe even better than Todd Boleski," said Dantonio. "Bates can go back as well. He was a kicker in high school and has good range. When we recruited Kevin, he put all of his kicks through the end zone and showed great ability for touchbacks. Dan Conroy is another player that demonstrated to me in the spring that he'll be in the hunt to be the kickoff specialist."
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