Lycoming punting an asset
Practice can be a boring time for Lycoming punter Connor Bell.
There’s a lot of stretching involved. Gotta make sure he’s loose. He’ll spend some time working on his drop and leg swing to make sure he’s ready to go. Maybe he’ll fire off a few kicks into the net on the sideline.
But mostly, Bell and Lycoming’s other kickers generally just stand around and shoot the breeze.
“I get a lot of comments from people that I don’t do anything,” Bell said. “But I get my job done.”
He sure does get the job done. Bell has been a consistent contributor to Lycoming’s dynamic special teams play this year. He’s a big part of the reason the Warriors are second in the Middle Atlantic Conference in net punting average. He’s provided some stability to a position which has been particularly volatile in recent years.
But to say that practice is a lively time for he and his fellow kickers would be a gross overstatement. The 25 minutes a day the Warriors devote to special teams is split up among punting, kicking and kickoff return and coverage.
“With the weather like it is now, it’s hard to stand out there, but it’s what I do,” Bell said. “I have to make the most of my time out there, and I do, but practice can be a little hard to get through.”
Bell was thrust into a starting role late last season and made just 12 punts over the final few weeks. He’s grabbed hold of the position with both hands this year and made it his own.
He’s been terribly consistent in the solid contact he makes and the tight spirals he sends down field. He’s got a knack for putting the ball in a place where it limits the kind of returns Lycoming’s opponents can make.
Bell has found the combination of distance in his kicks and height which has held opponents to just 40 punt return yards this year on 48 kicks. Only 10 of Bell’s 47 punts have been returned this year. His fair catch percentage of 38.2 is a drastic increase from last year when he had just one fair catch in 12 kicks.
“It’s kind of a tough balance to meet. I mean, who doesn’t want to punt the ball far?” Bell said. “But at the same time, it’s about the team and giving them time to get down there. High punts give you good coverage.”
“We’re in a good spot there right now. It’s something we take very seriously,” Lycoming head coach Mike Clark said. “It’s the first special team we install in preseason. It’s something we do every day of the week.”
Lycoming’s average of 36.8 yards per punt ranks sixth in the MAC this season. But when you factor in the return yards, its 35.1 net yards per punt average is second best in the league, behind only Delaware Valley.
Lycoming’s .8 return yards allowed per punt is the best in the league and more than a half-yard better than the next best total. Bell’s 18 fair catches are most in the league. His 18 kicks inside the 20-yard line are also the most in the league.
“At the end of the day, how many additional first downs are we making opponents have to earn?” Clark said. “If we can get the people to fair catch it or down it inside the 20 or limit the return yards, all of those things are very positive, and Connor has done a nice job of that.”
Bell has been a key cog in a special teams group which has been a big key to Lycoming winning four of its last five games. Placekicker Jamie Fisher needs one more field goal to tie the school’s single-season record and he has yet to miss on a PAT this year, something which has never happened in school history. His 1.5 field goals per games is tied for the third-best mark in the country.
Nobody in the conference has allowed fewer kickoff return yards than Lycoming, and Fisher’s 16 touchbacks are tops in the league. Dante Gipson is 13th in the country in punt return average.
“We’re fortunate because coach (Tim) Landis has been a Division I special teams coordinator,” Clark said. “It’s a game-changing group or unit. It’s something we take very seriously and he does an unbelievable job of getting kids ready.”