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Florida State football: 2021 special teams preview

Breaking down the specialists for each special team group

Don Juan Moore

Special teams make teams special.

I honestly don’t know if that’s the proper way to say that expression, but the thesis behind it remains the same — for a team to be successful, it needs to be able to use special teams in the same way that it uses other factions of the game.

Florida State Seminoles head coach Mike Norvell, as well as special teams coordinator John Papuchis, place a premium on making sure that special teams is an active tool in the team’s game plan. In 2020, we saw a glimpse into that mindset as the Seminoles racked up blocked kicks early in the season, with defensive tackle Marvin Wilson leading the way with three blocked kicks, tied for No. 1 in the country.

Those highlights were accompanied, as highlights often are, with lowlights, from botched punt returns to missed field goals to a continued inability to make positive yardage on returns.

As FSU heads into spring, it looks to build upon the success seen last season by taking a step forward in consistency and explosive plays.

2021 Florida State Seminoles Special Teams

Tomahawk Nation Projected Starters

Kicker: Redshirt junior Parker Grouthas

Last year, we saw a back-and-forth between Grouthas and Ryan Fitzgerald as FSU looked to find consistency in the field goal game. Throughout the year, no one kicker truly pulled ahead, but Grouthas seemed to be the more reliable option (going perfect on PATs) after having handled kickoff duties as a specialist in 2020. After hitting just 57% of field goals as a team in 2020, this is an area that FSU desperately needs to figure out.

Punter: Redshirt freshman Alex Mastramanno

The Thunder from Down Under, in his first year playing American college football, got more comfortable as the season went on though he still showed struggles in consistent form, leading to some wayward punts. He averaged 43.51 yards a punt, an improvement from the 2019 season and good enough for No. 16 in the nation, and will enter into spring as the lone punter on the roster.

Kickoff return: Redshirt freshman Travis Jay, redshirt sophomore Jashaun Corbin and redshirt freshman Ja’Khi Douglas

The trio of first-year players took over kickoff return duties in the middle of last season and proceeded as the core, with Jay and Douglas interchangeable. We saw potential in Jay’s return game last year, though a touchdown on kickoff still continues to elude the Seminoles, with the last having come in 2013 vs. Auburn in the BCS National Championship game.

Punt return: Redshirt freshman Travis Jay

Same situation as on kickoff, Jay’s athleticism is too off the charts to not give him the chance to make a play on special teams. On punt return, we saw Jay almost break a few off — but on the flip side, we also saw his casualness with the ball come back to bite against North Carolina State, where a punt return fumble gave the Wolfpack the final dagger they needed to seal the win. FSU averaged just 5.44 punt return yards per game.

Returning Players

Redshirt freshman Ryan Fitzgerald

Fitzgerald, who often took back seat to Grouthas, had himself a decent 2020 season, nailing a pair of important field goals vs. Notre Dame. On the year, Fitzgerald was 4 for 7 on field goals and 12 for 13 on PATs.

Redshirt senior Keyshawn Helton

Helton served as the consistent, reliable returner when either a player was unavailable due to injury or had to be pulled to get their mind right once more. While Helton offers his own dose of athleticism, he’s not likely to be the featured returner unless a premium has been placed on ball safety.

Redshirt freshman Corey Wren

We got a glimpse of Wren on kickoff return last year, with the running back/athlete totaling 40 yards in 5 games of action. He was seldom turned to in 2020, perhaps due to the overload of athletes capable of handling the ball on both special teams and offense, but figures to be able to showcase his speed and talent heading into the 2021 season.

Stay tuned to Tomahawk Nation all week long as we preview each position unit before the start of Spring Practice on Mar. 9.