Sept. 1, 2012
By Matt Winkeljohn
So you’re David Walkosky and you’ve landed something of a dream job but perhaps you’re not entirely sure how to feel about that because of the ying and yang of matters.
Paul Johnson chose you to be his first special teams coordinator at Georgia Tech, which can be interpreted as a sign of faith. Johnson, after all, never had one since becoming the head football coach at Tech. It was a committee job before, and he chaired that committee for four years.
Then again, if special teams play doesn’t improve, it’ll be on your head moreso now than his, and first crack outta the box who do you draw on the opposing sideline? How about a head coach with perhaps the greatest reputation for special teams coordination in modern college football history?
Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer’s special teams have long been special.
So whadya think about that, Mr. Walkosky?
“He’s a proven commodity over years, and he has his players playing at an unbelievably high level every week. There’s no mistake about it,” the new guy said. “His players buy into it, and they live by it. I would love to match that, and be in the conversation with being at the same level that he’s at. I’m not there. I’m trying to get there.”
Of course, and Johnson would love to see your units take a step in that direction Monday night in Blacksburg, where the Yellow Jackets will try to pluck the Hokies.
There is work to be done.
Last season, Georgia Tech ranked No. 108 nationally in kickoff return average (19.2 yards per return) and No. 61 in punt return average (8.1). These are the most glaring indicators of last year’s struggles, used here to demonstrate that inconsistency on “teams” was consistent.
That’s a word that has fit Beamer’s “teams” for a few decades. In a good way.
Since he became head coach at Virginia Tech in 1987, the Hokies have scored 48 special teams touchdowns: 17 on blocked punts, 18 on punt returns, eight on kickoff returns, four on blocked field goals and one on a fumble recovery.
In that time, Virginia Tech has blocked 63 punts, 38 field goals and 27 extra points.
The Hokies have by far gone the longest of any team in the nation among FBS schools since allowing a kickoff return for a TD, dating back to late in the 1993 season. That’s a streak of 233 consecutive games; next closest is San Diego State (136).
Walkosky’s got some ideas, and some of them came from Beamer.
The 19-year college and CFL assistant spent time visiting with the Virginia Tech staff during the offseason while he was on the staff at his alma mater, Toledo, from 1999-2006.
“We actually met with their defensive staff several years and one of the things we talked about while we were there for several days was special teams,” Walkosky said. “He doesn’t know who I am, but I remember all his stuff and what we talked about. There’s no question that I emulate a lot of his coaching style and techniques, and stuff he uses.”
Not that it took hearing Beamer talk about it, but one thing that leaps to mind when trying to figure out how the Hokies are so often so solid on special teams comes down to a common-sense observation.
They play more starters on “teams” than many teams, and quite a few of the “teams” players – whether offensive or defensive starters or not – have been around a while. Oh, and Ol’ Frank invests some serious energy in the X’s and O’s angle as well.
“His players buy into it, and they live by it,” Walkosky said. “Scheme is something he does. You have fourth and fifth-year players, and they don’t have a lot of true freshman [on special teams].They’re bigger, stronger and they know the system.”
Georgia Tech senior Orwin Smith, whose had some success in the return game earlier in his college career, senses an uptick in the Jackets’ approach to special teams.
“We’re just putting more emphasis on it. We’re doing the same things,” Smith said. “Coach Walk is kind of the head man of everything.
“In previous years, there would always be a position coach over a certain special team. [For Virginia Tech] it has to be the passion because as far as skill I feel like we’ve matched them.”
Tech’s assistants are still keenly involved in special teams. The biggest difference now is that Walkosky is coordinating all efforts, although Johnson’s still involved as well. He said he doubts that having visited with Beamer will help him and the Jackets schematically, but perhaps there will be some rub-off.
“We’re going to try to match or surpass their intensity on every special teams play,” he said. “Everything I’m putting it is all new to everyone, or if it’s similar to what they knew the nomenclature is different. Hopefully in a couple years we’ll be at the same level.
“I love the players that we have here. They’re hungry, eager . . . and the whole staff helps out with special teams. Just like you have a corners coach, and a linebackers coach you have those in special teams, too. We’re coaching them hard, and guys are buying in 100 percent.”
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