Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local Sports

September 3, 2013

Kickin’ it California style

New punter’s strong leg vital in team’s win over William & Mary

MORGANTOWN — Special teams is an important part of every football game. Without adequate kicking, punting, kick and punt returning, and defending those returns, games can swing in a matter of seconds.

In 2012 West Virginia University had problems with it’s punting. It was erratic, sporatic and many times did not give the Mountaineers the advantage a team should get when it punts the ball.

Saturday afternoon Nick O’Toole made his Mountaineer Field debut. The 6’5 220 pound redshirt sophomore is built more like a receiver, but his job on the team is the punter. O’Toole came to WVU from Fullerton College, a junior college in California, whiere he ranked third last year in the California Community College Athletic Association with an average of 41.8 yards per kick.

Against William & Mary, the Mountaineer punter booted the ball five times for a 50.6 average and a long kick of 60 yards. Asked if he were at all phased by the 56,350 fans in attendance, the Corona, Calif., native said he was cool with it, but it was a unique experience.

“I played before 30,000 at my high school stadium, but nothing compares to Mountaineer Country out here,” O’Toole said. “I was just trying to focus on what I was doing. I’ve done the same kick every day for the last couple of years, might as well keep doing that and once I got on the field, it was just muscle memory.”

O’Toole’s first punt was his shortest of the game, 32 yards, but it pinned the Tribe at its own 12 yard line. His next kick went for 48 yards and was fair caught on the W&M 21. Kick No. 3 went 57 yards and was downed at the 22. His fourth boot went for 40 yards and carried into the endzone for a touchback. His fifth kick of the afternoon went for 56 yards and his final punt was a 60-yarder, going from the Mountaineers’ own 13 to the William & Mary 27.

“We were backed up and I knew I had to come up with a big kick,” O’Toole said. “I saw the returner, he was up at the 50, I was like, ‘Better get it over his head.’ The wind was behind me, it was a great snap and (long snapper) John (DePalma) and the coverage was awesome. (Darwin) Cook got down there. I was talking to John later and he said, ‘Cook got down there fast.’”

Joe Deforest is special teams coordinator this season for WVU, after serving last year as co-defensive coordinator. O’Toole said DeForrest has been a tremendous help to his punting.

“Coach Defo has been awesome. He is helping me get more mentally tough and keep everything going in my technique, helping me stay strong in my technique,” O’Toole said. “We’ve been working on more flexibility, getting more consistent. It’s a great honor to be with Coach Defo out here.”

WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen had good words for his new punter.

“Shout out to Nick O’Toole,” Holgorsen said in his post-game comments. “Talk about fipping the field. He was averaging over 50 yards a punt which when you’re talking about hidden yardage, our defense was in great field position the whole day.”

O’Toole said Holgorsen confronted him prior to the game.

“Coach Holgorsen asked me that (if I were nervous) last (Friday) night,” O’Toole said. “I build it up more in my head. Once I get on the field it goes away. It’s all muscle memory. I just have to stay true to my technique and hope that muscle memory takes over and I hit that kick.”

With punting such a major issue for the Mountaineers last season, O’Toole said that was not a decision in his choice to come to Morgantown.

“Last year I was focused on getting out, getting a scholarship from my Juco and being able to play at this Division I elite level,” O’Toole commented.

Taking to Mountaineer Field for the first time, the Californian described the moment.

“I just like being with the guys before we got out, when we were all in the weight room and all the fog was coming in,” O’Toole related. “You can’t really see anything, you just hear the countdown. That was the best part.”

O’Toole and the Mountaineers travel to Norman, Okla., Saturday to take on the Oklahoma Sooners in a Big 12 conference game.

— Contact Bob Redd at

bredd@bdtonline.com

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