Penn State Football’s Specialist Competitions Ramping Up Ahead Of Blue-White Game
Penn State football has had plenty of talent at kicker and punter for much of James Franklin’s tenure. This year, Penn State is searching for new starters at the positions after the departures of redshirt seniors Barney Amor and Jake Pinegar.
Penn State’s success on special teams can be defined by the career of current Baltimore Ravens punter Jordan Stout. Stout tallied 100 punts with an average of 44.5 yards throughout his three-year career at Penn State from 2019 to 2021, along with 20 made field goals on 31 attempts.
Last year, Barney Amor took over punting duties, averaging 44.3 yards per punt with a long of 60 yards. Jake Pinegar was the lead field goal kicker and went 12 for 14 on field goal attempts with a long kick of 50 yards.
With both Amor and Pinegar gone, Penn State special teams coach Stacy Collins is tasked with replacing the talent.
Collins said he likes what he sees from his kickers so far, but there is still a lot more work to do before the roster is set.
“We have Sander [Sahaydak] back and he has done a nice job. Him and Alex Felkins have come in and competed every single day,” Collins said. “They’ve got a heck of a competition going.”
Sahaydak, a redshirt sophomore from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, saw action in seven games last year, mostly as a kickoff specialist. Sahaydak made his first career extra point and field goal attempts last November against Rutgers.
Felkins, a recent senior transfer student from Columbia University, appeared in 10 games for the Lions last year, going 11 for 16 on field goals along with a first-team All-Ivy League nomination.
Sahaydak and Felkins have both taken reps with the first and second teams as a placekicker, and Collins says that both kickers are showing high levels of consistency throughout spring practice.
Just like the placekicking spot, the punter position is largely up in the air. Collins says redshirt freshman Alex Bacchetta and senior Riley Thompson are locked in a battle for the starting spot.
Bacchetta saw action in two games during his redshirt season, punting four times with an average of 40 yards. The Georgia native was highly decorated during his high school career with a MaxPreps All-American punter nomination as a sophomore and three class 3A all-state honors.
Thompson, hailing from Melbourne, Australia, transferred from Florida Atlantic after the 2022 season. He had an average punt length of 45.4 yards and a long of 71.
The role of kickoff specialist will come down to redshirt sophomores Gabriel Nwosu and Mitchell Groh.
“[Nwosu] has a big-time leg and he’s done a great job,” Collins said. “Then Mitch goes in there and is competing also. No one stands out as a one right now.”
Collins said that Felkins and Thompson are stepping into leadership roles as the most experienced out of the group, making the younger players work even harder to be able to compete.
“Bringing those two guys in that are older and have a little bit more experience just adds to the competition,” Collins said. “Our younger guys have stepped up and that competition has been fun to watch every day.”
Despite having to compete with seasoned veterans, Collins believes that both Sahaydak and Bacchetta are beginning to set themselves apart.
“They’re extremely hard workers,” Collins said. “They both have elite legs, and they’ve grown and matured over time. They’re great to have around.”
Collins believes that this year’s spring practice has featured one of the best competitions he can remember during his career.
“It’s just like any position when you add experience to your lineup,” Collins said. “The competition in that room right now is going to make every one of us better.”
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