Wharton Football's 'Special' Special Teams
The Wharton Wildcats' special teams formations have evolved into dangerous weapons.
It’s not often a team can say they use their best athlete as a gunner on punt return. It’s not often a team can use that same athlete as a place-holder on field goal formations.
It’s not often a team’s top receiver, also their backup quarterback, is the field goal kicker. Wait, wait it gets better. It’s not often a team’s franchise quarterback is their punter.
But that’s just how it is for the 2012 Wharton Wildcats.
Junior Chase Litton took 21 of Wharton’s 33 punts last season and averaged 36.71. Not eye-popping numbers, not even that great as far as high school punters go. Oh, but he threw for over 2,000 yards and 10 touchdowns.
“I’d rather know we’re all right because I have the ball in my hands,” Litton said of punting.
It’s a great advantage for a special teams coordinator. If he ever wanted to run a fake punt, it would be so simple to just have Litton pull the ball up and hit a receiver with a pass, heck, even run it himself.
“When they (other teams) see Chase (Litton) back there, it makes them question if they wanna send a full rush,” defensive coordinator Kiwuakee Thomas said. “Now with (senior Vernon) Hargreaves out there, they are not going to send a full blitz to get the block.”
Gunner/Place Holder/Up Back
Flanking the outside of the punt formation is Hargreaves, as good a receiver as he is a tackler. At the up back position, senior Rocky Enos holds down a blocking spot but there’s no reason he couldn’t take a direct snap and run with it, even slip out in the flat or upfield for a pass.
“Rocky’s been playing full back and tight end for us this year, he knows how to handle the football,” special teams coach Andy Martin said.
The Wildcats line up for a field goal with Hargreaves as the place holder and fellow senior Keith “KJ” Hopkins (18 catches, 253 yards) as the kicker. Hopkins is a natural receiver; he just happens to know how to kick. However, having Hargeaves and Hopkins in the backfield during your field goal formations provides a huge advantage both on a psychological level and simply because Hargreaves could just pull the ball up and beat you to the corner. It’s enough to cause nightmares for any team facing Wharton’s special teams.
There were two examples where this came into play so far in 2012. In a 29-27 win over Sickles, the Wildcats used their regular field goal formation. Hargreaves pulled in the snap and raced to the corner for the two-point conversion, twice.
Then again, on Oct. 5 against Plant, Wharton punted and Hargreaves came in at gunner. It was a move that was made in-game the week prior against Durant, so it’s entirely possible the ultra-prepared Panther staff was surprised seeing Hargreaves in there.
Hargreaves began yelling things at Litton, Litton yelled things back, Hagreaves yelled something at Enos, Enos changed position. The Panther coaching staff went ballistic, changing calls, yelling at their team to check this and check that. After the cross-field shouting match, the Wildcats just punted, but the formation or better yet the personel in the formation had the opposing team second-guessing.
“Some of those are just dummy calls but some of those can change the play,” Hargreaves said.
None of it really came about by design but more by coincidence and a common thread of Wharton seniors doing whatever it takes to help the team.
Litton on punting
Litton never punted at all until his freshman year when he was messing around at practice and booted a 60-yard punt. By his sophomore year, he had taken over full-time duty and has no plans to relinquish the role.
Litton does not see why someone besides himself should bear that responsibility.
Hargreaves on place holding and gunner
Hargreaves is the same way. Hargreaves already plays safety and contributes on offense as a wide receiver and wildcat quarterback. Now he’s stepped up to contribute on special teams as well.
“First few games of the season, nobody wanted to run down there and tackle, so I volunteered for it,” Hargreaves said.
Hargreaves highlighted the punt return in the Durant game that set up an easy score as one of the main reasons he felt compelled to join the special teams.
“Coach Thomas said we have to win two of the three phases of the game to win the game,” Hargreaves said.
Hopkins and kicking
Hopkins was not a kicker. He kicked in youth football but he was not a kicker — or so he thought. Hopkins just happened into a kicking contest during his freshman year. He was the second best kicker on the team and proved he could kick at the high school level, even though he’s a square-toe kicker. A square-toe kicker is one who approaches the ball straight on, like in the old days.
“Whatever my team needs, that’s what I’m gonna do,” Hopkins said.
Enos in punt formation
Enos had a smoother transition to playing up back. He started in 2011, but 2012 is the first he’s been full-time at the position. Enos is already being asked to play some tight end and full back on offense as well as the middle linebacker of the defense.
“Sure it’s tiring going all three ways, but it’s whatever helps the team,” Enos said.
The Wildcats, while they have had success running fake field goals, they have yet to run a fake punt this season.
“Without subbing people, we can do all kinds of things,” Martin said.
The sentiment of doing whatever it takes for your team seems to be pervasive in Wharton’s senior ranks. Expect the Wildcats to win two of the three phases of the game quite frequently down the stretch of 2012.