So here’s what we know about the special teams units for the Penn State football team: Ty Yazujian will be the long snapper for kicks and punts.
After that, question marks litter the fields inside and outside Holuba Hall.
Kicker? Punter? Kick returns? Punt returns? Throw names in a hat and see what comes out.
But that shouldn’t matter to Yazujian, right? He just has to snap the ball back there and then do some blocking.
The senior sets some pretty high standards.
“There are so many different levels of snappers,” punter Chris Gulla said. “He’s trying to go to the NFL, and he has the talent to do it. Most college snappers, it’s get it back in the body (midsection) range.”
For a guy who chose to attend Penn State for an education, thinking he would not be playing college sports, he has carved a decent niche for himself.
Some small schools gave him a look, but he came to study security and risk analysis in the College of Information Sciences and Technology. He figured he would play with the club baseball team and be content.
But then he tried out as a walk-on for football, and with the two long snappers on the roster in 2013 set to graduate, he saw an opening. He worked on his snapping all through the fall, tried out again in the spring and made the cut. He’s been in every game since.
“You could probably make the argument,” head coach James Franklin said, “maybe one of the most valuable and one of the most consistent guys on our team.”
And if you don’t remember him in any of those games, that’s just fine with the senior from Spring-Ford High School.
“It’s an important job,” Yazujian said. “No one really notices it, which honestly I kind of enjoy. No news is good news in snapping.”
A main reason for the success of the 2015 Academic All-American is his attention to detail. Different punters prefer the ball in a different spot. Gulla kicks with his right foot, so Yazujian directs the ball to Gulla’s right hip for the best timing. Dan Pasquariello is a lefty, and he likes it sent to his left shoulder — unless he wants to employ a rugby-style kick on the move, then Yazujian leads the junior a couple of steps wide.
“The slightest miss can offset their feet, mess up their timing,” Yazujian said. “You want to make their job as easy as you can.”
He even focused on the details for field goals and extra points.
“I’m so spoiled,” said Gulla, who also is the holder for the kickers. “He gets the ball laces out. He times the spin so it’s laces out when I catch it, basically, every time, which is a huge, huge help for me.”
Yazujian, who was an infielder and pitcher in high school baseball and even played in the Centre County Baseball League the past three summers, likens the snapping to what he experiences on the mound. He wants to pound the ball into the strike zone every time.
“It comes down to muscle memory,” he said. “You’ve done it for years, 100 times a day. It’s all just doing the same thing over and over and over again to help your guys, help the punters, help the holders, help the kickers and help the team. If you help them, punters flip the field for our defense, pin the opponents’ offense back, and (help put) points on the board with the field goal unit. It all trickles down.”
As Nittany Lion fans will attest, the punters could have been a little better last season. Pasquariello had the slightly better numbers than Gulla, averaging 39.9 yards per boot, putting 12 kicks inside the 20-yard line with only three touchbacks. Gulla averaged 37.7 yards per kick with eight inside the 20 and two touchbacks.
“One of the factors that we’ve talked about (were) our struggles on offense last year (compounded) by our struggles in the punting game,” Franklin said. “That’s not a great combination.”
As for the kickers, the choices are many. Tyler Davis, a former soccer player, was 8 for 8 in field goals and 11 for 11 in extra points last season, playing later in the year. Joey Julius started early but was inconsistent, finishing 10 for 12 in field goals and 20 for 24 in extra points. The Nittany Lions have since added a pair of kickers from Georgia for this fall in Alex Barbir, a three-star kicker by four recruiting services, and Blake Gillikin, who rated three and four stars by the recruiting services. Gillikin is both a kicker and punter.
Both are also athletes and competitors who can kick, not typical kickers, according to special teams coach Charles Huff.
“We’re going to push each other,” Davis said. “The best kicker’s going to play, the best kicker’s going to help the team.”
Whoever may be kicking the ball, Yazujian will do his part to make sure they succeed.
“I see it as any other position,” Yazujian said. “I’m good at my job, (linebacker Jason) Cabinda’s good at his job, (receiver Chris) Godwin and all the other receivers are good at their job. It all comes down to where you are and how you contribute to the team.”