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Heel Tough Blog: 2023 Position Previews- ST

Orlando Ramirez- USA Today Sports

We close down our look at this year’s Tar Heel roster with a look at the special teams unit. After years of asking for better special teams play, Mack Brown finally got it in 2022 and the hope is that they can build on it in 2023.


Punter Ben Kiernan is coming off a spectacular junior season and will once again be one of the best in the conference. Last year, he averaged 46.8 yards per punt, ranking third in the entire country in punt yard average. While he does have the ability to flip the field, he only landed one punt inside of the 20 and his punts led to 152 return yards a year ago. Finding the balance between distance and accuracy is the next step for him.


The team also has a chance to have one of the best returners in the country as well this season. George Pettaway was absolutely explosive at the end of last season, averaging 31.6 yards on his seven kick return attempts. He also handled punt return duties for the team in the bowl game and returned one of the punts he received for 16 yards. With his straight-line speed, he has a chance to be a game-changer in both return roles this season.


He will have to fight off two transfers for the punt returner spot. Alijah Huzzie was dynamic as a returner for East Tennessee the last three years, averaging 12.0 yards per return on 26 career punt returns. Nate McCollum handled the duties at Georgia Tech last year, as well, averaging 7.9 yards per return on seven return attempts.


While there is still uncertainty at the punt returner spot, it’s not nearly the concern that the starting placekicker role is again this season. Graduate transfer Ryan Coe was supposed to come in and take over the job after a productive season at Cincinnati a year ago. He connected on 19 of his 23 field goal attempts and all 44 of his extra point attempts on the way to all-conference honors, but he simply hasn’t been consistent enough so far in camp.


That leaves him in a battle with junior Noah Burnette, who had a rough finish to last season leading to Coe being brought in. Similar to the Tar Heel offense, Burnette had a good start to the season, missing just one field goal in the first eleven games. He would miss four in the final three games, including two in the rivalry game against NC State. The hope is that the offseason can help him reset and Coe’s addition can add a chip to his shoulder that allows him to be more consistent if he wins the job.


Redshirt freshman Liam Boyd joined the team in the summer, but it doesn’t seem as if the staff is looking at him for the starting kicking job. Prior to transferring from Clemson, Boyd was battling for the starting job there, so he could be the future of the position for the Tar Heels.


The good news is that the rest of the players involved in the placekicking game are back. Junior long snapper Spencer Triplett is back to handle the snapping duties on kicks and sophomore punter Cole Maynard will handle the holding duties again after a strong year together.


Triplett’s fellow long snapper, graduate Drew Little, will handle the long snapping duties on punts. He’s been really good in his four seasons with the program and landed himself on the Pat Mannelly Award watch list heading into his final year.


Sophomore punter Tom Maginness will provide depth at punter after coming over from Australia. Maginness previously kicked in the NAB league and he trained with Prokick Australia, which has produced plenty of kickers and punters that have come over and succeeded in American football.


Redshirt freshman Garrett Jordan will be the extra long snapper on the roster again this season. He will almost certainly be the guy who takes over for Little next year.


When it comes to the team’s coverage units, they could both stand to improve after below average numbers a year ago. The return of British Brooks as the captain of the unit should help, as should the improved depth of the roster as a whole.


Projected Depth Chart

PK

#98 Noah Burnette, Jr.

#40 Ryan Coe, Gr.

#37 Liam Boyd, RFr.

P

#91 Ben Kiernan, Gr.

#92 Cole Maynard, So.

#96 Tom Maginness, So.

KR

#23 George Pettaway, So.

#28 Omarion Hampton, So.

# 4 Caleb Hood, Jr.

PR

#23 George Pettaway, So.

#28 Alijah Huzzie, Jr.

# 6 Nate McCollum, Jr.

LS

#61 Drew Little, Gr.- P

#62 Spencer Triplett, Jr.- K

#43 Garrett Jordan, RFr.

H

#92 Cole Maynard, So.

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