Morningside’s special teams may be key to NAIA National Championship

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Morningside opponents may be thinking that since the offense is so good, the defense is so good, so special teams could be the weak spot, right? Not so much, Morningside is a true believer that special teams should be special.

“Bo [Els] gets a lot of credit [returning kicks]. But you know Coach Jacobson does a great job with our punt return team,” head coach Steve Ryan said. “And it’s largely defensive players that are on the field and Bo. And I think in modern football if you don’t have a clean catch, you need to fair catch it And those guys give him the opportunity to field the ball and get upfield.”

Senior wide receiver Bo Els not only leads Morningside in receptions, but he’s also the nation’s top punt returner, leading all of the NAIA in punt return yards by a wide margin, and leading the nation in average at 17.3 yards per return, setting up the nation’s best offense in even better field position.

“There have been several games this year where we’ve struggled a little bit in the first half,” said Ryan. “And a big punt return, I think he’s returned two for touchdowns, and big punt returns have set us up short fields for us, so it’s huge. Special teams is a critical part of the game”

“That’s really just a credit to our defense, and our punt return unit,” Els said. “Coach Jacobson always has a really good plan each week. He leads that unit. Just all the blocks I get, and guys flying around the field selling out for me, it really makes my job a lot easier.”

On the other side of special teams, it’s the H-back, fifth-year senior Addison Ross who takes care of the punts. Which was never the plan, but Ross has thrived in his new role, even if he isn’t used much.

“What’s he at, 15 punts on the year?” said Ryan. “His leg should be fresh. Addison has got a special place in my heart. We recruited him to be a quarterback. He came in, competed with Trent, didn’t go the way he wanted, and moved to H-back for us. He played, came back for his fifth year to be the starting quarterback, and competed with Joey. And I just remember sitting around saying how am I going to approach him and see if I can talk him into playing another position. He just walks into my office the next morning and says ‘coach, I didn’t come back to sit. I’m moving back to H-back.’ i just think the world of the young man. Of course, then I threw in, yeah, and you’re going to punt for us as well.”

Ross comes into Saturday with only 18 punts, not enough to qualify him among the national leaders, but his season average of 37.4 yards per punt would have him in the top 35 in the nation. In the final phase of special teams, freshman kicker carter chase has been reliable all year for Morningside, going 6-9 on field goals with a long of 40 yards, and 72-75 on point-afters.

Coach Ryan says he expects special teams to play a huge role in who wins tomorrow’s national championship game.

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