Mountain West Football: 2023 Post-Spring Practice Specialist Rankings

Mountain West Football: 2023 Post-Spring Practice Specialist Rankings

Which Mountain West punters and kickers are among the best of the best at the end of spring football practice?

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Which specialists have a leg up on the competition?


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Note: Italics denote projected starters.

12. Colorado State

High ranking in group: 7th | Low ranking in group: 12th

Projected depth: Paddy Turner (P), Henry Katleman (K), Ashton Wolff, Bryan Hansen

Turner learned the hard way that it isn’t easy to replace a record-setting punt, but while his 39.1 yards per punt average ranked last among qualifying Mountain West punters, it’s worth noting that CSU’s net punting average was better than that of six other teams in the conference. Katleman, meanwhile, will probably have to battle Wolff and Hansen for the kicker job throughout the fall. Rams fans will keep their fingers crossed that this unit doesn’t backslide into the disaster it became during the last years of Steve Addazio’s time in Fort Collins.


11. San Jose State

High ranking: 5th | Low ranking: 12th

Projected depth: Alex Weir (P), Taren Schive (K), Kyler Halvorsen

The Spartans had a nice bounceback campaign in 2022, but a big step forward from their special teams contributors could mean even bigger things in 2023. That’s because neither kicking nor punting was what you’d call a strength: Schive made just 12-of-18 field goals and missed three extra points while Weir managed 40.6 yards per punt. That figure would’ve ranked next-to-last among qualifying players in the Mountain West.

10. UNLV

High ranking: 4th | Low ranking: 11th

Projected depth: Marshall Nichols (P), Jose Pizano (K), Andre Meono


Nichols’s first year in the desert after transferring from Mississippi State provided some much-needed stability at a position which had long been a soft sport for the Rebels: His 42.5 yards per punt was the best average by a UNLV punter since 2019. The big question now is identifying who will replace record-setting kicker Daniel Gutierrez.

Of the three candidates on the current roster, Pizano has the best track record. He transferred to the Rebels after being named a second-team all-Missouri Valley performer at Missouri State in both 2020 and 2021. Whoever wins the job has a very high standard to meet.

9. Hawaii

High ranking: 1st | Low ranking: 12th


Projected depth: Matthew Shipley (P/K), Ben Falck

Shipley doesn’t have the name recognition of a Jonah Dalmas or a Jack Browning, but he’s been pretty good in his own right over the past couple seasons while pulling double duty for the Warriors. He topped 80% on field goals in 2021 and 2022, though he also finished next-to-last in both seasons by yards per punt while Hawaii ranked 104th in FBS by net YPP. If he can improve the latter figure while holding on to the strength of the former, he could be a big reason why the Warriors surprise this fall.

8. Fresno State

High ranking: 3rd | Low ranking: 11th


Projected depth: Carson King (P), Dylan Lynch (K), Abraham Montano

King won’t be confused with some other punters in this collective ranking, but he’s grown into a perfectly fine contributor who helped the Bulldogs finish in a tie for 59th among FBS teams in net punting last year. The kicking quandry is a tougher problem to solve, though: Montano battled ineffectiveness and injuries throughout 2022 and briefly ceded the job to Lynch, who connected on 6-of-7 field goals in a three-game November stretch. If one or the other can’t definitively win the job in fall camp, it could cause a lot of angst throughout the Red Wave.

7. Utah State

High ranking: 3rd | Low ranking: 10th


Projected depth: Stephen Kotsanlee (P), William Testa (K), Elliot Nimrod

Kotsanlee has gotten better every year since his debut in 2020, posting a career-best 43.4 yards per punt while helping the Aggies finish in a tie for 57th with a net average of 38.9. Following Connor Coles’s graduation, he’s also the one known quantity in this unit.

Utah State has a few options at their disposal to replace Coles at kicker: Nimrod has been the team’s kickoff specialist for two seasons while Testa kicked for three years at New Mexico Military Institute and Britton Watts and Colton Schlimgen have joined the team as true freshmen. Blake Anderson may take as much time as he can get to sort this one out.

6. New Mexico

High ranking: 2nd | Low ranking: 9th


Projected depth: Aaron Rodriguez (P), Zach Benedict (K), Damien Sanchez, Charles Steinkamp, Luke Drzewiecki

Rodriguez was one of the busiest punters in college football for the second straight season. He launched exactly 81 punts once again while improving his yards per punt average and helping the Lobos finish in the top 40 by net punt average, so he should be on the shortlist as a frontrunner for the Mountain West’s special teams player of the year in 2023.

The situation at kicker, on the other hand? That remains as unclear as ever. Drzewiecki connected on 10-of-14 field goals in his freshman campaign, so he probably has the inside track when you also consider none among Benedict, Sanchez, and Steinkamp (the younger brother of former UNM kicker George) have seen the field for a FBS contest. This trio is comprised of a true freshman and two redshirt freshmen, though, so the hope is that there’s plenty of room for growth.


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5. Air Force

High ranking: 2nd | Low ranking: 12th

Projected depth: Carson Bay (P), Matthew Dapore (K)

The Falcons usually boast one of the most aggressive fourth-down offenses in the country, but their specialists are rock solid. Two years into their respective tenures, Dapore has been the bigger standout with a field goal success rate of 77.4% while Bay saw his punt average fall from 41.2 in 2021 to 37.7 in 2022.

4. Wyoming

High ranking: 2nd | Low ranking: 11th

Projected depth: Clayton Stewart (P), John Hoyland (K), Ralph Fawaz

Where the offense often scuffled in 2022, the Cowboys’ special teams rarely let an opportunity to contribute slip away. Hoyland was nearly automatic yet again on a career-high 22-of-25 field goal tries while Stewart won the punting competition over Fawaz and finished third in the Mountain West with 44.1 yards per punt. It’s reasonable to expect more of the same from these brown and gold standouts.


3. Nevada

High ranking: 3rd | Low ranking: 11th

Projected depth: Matt Freem (P), Brandon Talton (K)

Talton missed time with injury last year, but that didn’t stop him from claiming the Mountain West record for career field goals made. If he’s 100% again in 2023, he’s a safe bet to be a Lou Groza Award semifinalist for the fourth time in his career. Barring a disastrous final season, he’ll leave the Wolf Pack as one of the best specialists in conference history, period.

Freem had a decent go of things in his first stint as the team’s punter, finishing sixth in the Mountain West with 42.6 yards per punt with a 37.3 net average. He and Talton should make Nevada’s kicking situation a bright spot even as the team figures things out elsewhere on offense and defense in the fall.

2. Boise State

High ranking: 1st | Low ranking: 7th

Projected depth: James Ferguson-Reynolds (P), Jonah Dalmas (K)

Ferguson-Reynolds introduction to the FBS went well enough, averaging of 41.8 yards per punt while pinning opponents inside the 20-yard line a third of the time, but Dalmas’s track record is most of the reason why the Broncos are ranked here. A two-time Lou Groza Award semifinalist, Dalmas has put the Boise State offense on his foot more than once over the years and enters 2023 with a field goal success rate of 88.9%.

1. San Diego State

High ranking: 1st | Low ranking: 4th

Depth chart: Jack Browning (P/K), Gabriel Plascencia

Browning returns to the Mesa as the Mountain West’s reigning special teams player of the year and he earned every bit of that honor with an 80% field goal success rate and a 41.9 net yard per punt figure which ranked 12th in the FBS. Sooner or later, he’s going to need a catchy nickname like predecessors Matt Araiza and John Baron II.

More Mountain West Football!

Mountain West Football: 2023 Post-Spring Practice Quarterback Rankings

Mountain West Football: 2023 Post-Spring Practice Defensive Back Rankings

Mountain West Football: 2023 Post-Spring Practice Wide Receiver/Tight End Rankings


Story originally appeared on Mountain West Wire