For a football team that finished with a 1-11 record, it is difficult to identify its most glaring weaknesses. The 2003 Temple Owls were ranked last in the Big East Conference in total and scoring offense, last in total and scoring defense, and at or near the bottom of more than a dozen other team categories.
But it was the special teams, primarily the kicking game, that cost the Owls a number of games last season. Missing more than 56 percent of their field goal attempts, converting just 86 percent of their point-after tries, and averaging less than 33 yards per punt, special teams demanded the most immediate attention of coach Bobby Wallace’s recruiting.
On National Letter of Intent day last Wednesday, the Owls announced a list of 30 incoming freshmen and junior college transfers who have signed letters of intent to play for them next fall. NCAA rules allow for Wallace and his staff to take 25 players, leaving five guys to look elsewhere.
Three players who are sure bets are kicker Ryan Lux, punter Jake Hendy, and long snapper Jacob Simon. The trio will join a substantial contingent of JC transfers, 16 in total, who expect to play for Temple this fall.
“Those three players can come in and help us on special teams,” Wallace said in a press conference last Wednesday to announce the signings. “Not that all of them are automatic starters, because everybody has to earn his position, but they definitely should be helpful in those areas.”
Lux, a JC Grid-Wire first team all-American at Palomar College in San Marcos, Calif., last season, will be vital to a Temple kicking unit that struggled in both yardage and efficiency. Wallace hopes Lux’s big-time leg can lessen some of the pressure on an inconsistent defense.
“Every kickoff I saw, although I didn’t see every one, he [Lux] was kicking it out of or into the end zone,” Wallace said. “There’s a big difference between letting an offense start from its 20-yard line, and letting it start from its 30 or 35. Last year we had good kickoff coverage, but we didn’t have a kicker who could put it down there [near the end zone].”
Also included in this year’s class are five players from the City College of San Francisco, the 2003 California Community College champions. Running back Tim Brown, the California Community College Offensive Player of the Year, and defensive tackle Lloyd Talakai, another CCCFCA first team all-American, highlight the San Francisco group.
Wallace also expressed excitement about wide receiver Antwon Guidry, an honorable mention all-American who was originally pursued by Nebraska.
“[Guidry] actually played behind Tim Brown at running back, so we ended up getting both backs,” Wallace said. “We can use him as a kick returner, punt returner, wherever.”
The star of the local prospects is speedy linebacker Rick Costa of Moorestown, N.J. The 230-pound Costa, a converted defensive back, was an Associated Press and Gannett All-State selection at Holy Cross High School in Delran, N.J.
While Costa and his fellow incoming freshmen are probably a year or two away from being major contributors, Wallace expects the junior college transfers to be factors much sooner, as former JC quarterback Walter Washington was for the Owls last season.
Washington returns for his junior season in 2004, after replacing injured starter Mike McGann at quarterback midway through the year. Washington’s transition to Division I was impressive, if not seamless, and Wallace expects similar success from this year’s transfers.
“It’s a lot less difficult to make the transition to Division I football as an athlete, rather than at a position like quarterback,” Wallace said. “Receivers, defensive backs, kickers and punters, of course, don’t have as much to learn about the schemes, and can just let their talent take over.”
Benjamin Watanabe can be reached at email@example.com.