New coach, expectations for GT specialists

Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson has gone from one extreme to another -- from no special teams coach to one dedicated entirely to that phase of the game. No other position group or meetings to worry about. Why? Well, for starters, two field goals were blocked last season, including one that was returned for a touchdown. A fumbled punt return led to a Miami touchdown, kickoffs were returned from deep in the end zone, there were two punts of less than 20 yards, and three missed field goals against Utah.

Enter Dave Walkosky -- special teams guru. (His first college play was a blocked punt.)

Since his days as a walk-on at Toledo, Walkosky has had a soft spot for the importance of special teams. Never before, though, has he had a chance to focus all of his attention on it. At the collegiate level, the special teams coaches are also usually assigned a position group. Walkosky has also worked with defensive backs and linebackers throughout most of his career.

Not anymore.

“The commitment that he’s made in hiring me as a special teams coordinator, and doing it just like the NFL … I don’t know if any other team in the country has that,” Walkosky said. “The opportunity that I have that Paul gave me is to study our opponent, study our film. That’s what’s an advantage for Georgia Tech in that I can study more film, study our opponent and find weaknesses, things like that. Now, does that equate to being better? I hope so. That’s something I’m excited about, the position and the huge commitment he made. I’m fired up about it. Of course everyone expects things to be better, and I’m OK with that. I expect things to be better, also.”

Walkosky was hired after one season (2011) as linebackers coach for the Calgary Stampeders, where he was quickly promoted to defensive coordinator. Prior to working in the CFL, Walkosky spent 19 years as a Division II head coach and Division I defensive coordinator and assistant coach. His stops included Washington State and Toledo.

Now he’s tasked with turning around a kick return game that ranked No. 108 in the country last season. He has already raised the expectations. Walkosky’s constant attention and higher demands have been a change for the kickers. They’ve had to -- you know, run.

“In everywhere I’ve been, I’ve never had an opportunity to be with them throughout the whole practice,” Walkosky said. “If you’re a position coach, you give them things to do, and then you go practice with your position, check on them, and then after practice watch film with them. As a specialist, you have to be in phenomenal shape. You have to be conditioned. You have to have phenomenal core strength for the long-snapping, punting and kicking positions. And that’s something I wanted to make sure they understood. They’re part of the team -- they’re going to be in great condition, great strength and great core strength in order to perform their game day duties. It’s not just, ‘hey, after our specialty period we’re done for the day.’”

The kickers’ work is far from done at Georgia Tech. Justin Moore tied for eighth in the ACC last season with 11 of 17 made field goals, and punter Sean Poole was No. 6 in the league with 39.7 yards per punt. David Scully handled kickoffs and is expected to do so again.

“The specialists need to work,” Walkosky said. “We’re going to work and try to get better. Some of the performances were not up to par last year. Can those be fixed? We’re going to work on that. We tried to in the spring, we’ll continue in the fall.”

Walkosky said his motto is “one down to be perfect,” and he liked the potential he saw in the Jackets this past spring.

“This whole football team has more special teams-type players than I’ve ever been associated with,” he said. “It used to be you’re looking for the tight ends, the big guys. That doesn’t really fit what I’m looking for on special teams. I want linebackers, the guys who can run. The A-backs and B-backs we have, and the linebackers and d-ends who can run are awesome. They fit what I like to do, so I’m ecstatic about the special teams-type players we have here.”

And for the first time under Johnson, they’ve got a coach.