Special Team Breakout Players
As many of you know, I was primarily a special teams player during my 4 years at Holy Cross. As a result, I have a ton of pride for STs and closely watch all of the units for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. At its core, STs are about effort, intensity, and heart. It gives guys an opportunity to play who otherwise wouldn’t have that chance (depth chart, needs to put on weight, they’re a walk on, etc.) With all that said, I wanted to take the first stab at who might emerge as the top special teams players for the Irish in 2023. I excluded returners and kickers, as I am looking for the hair on fire lunatics who will be try to make a play no matter what.....Let’s do this.
Established Veteran Playmakers
Jordan Botelho - Botelho is the right type of nut you want on all units. He craves contact and is violent every chance he gets. He has been a mainstay on all units, but may see a dip this year due to the fact that he will be a first time starter on the defense. However, you better believe he will block at least 1 punt this year.
Watts was a mainstay on all units a year ago as he continued to climb the depth chart at safety. He brings obvious physicality, athleticism, as well as added bulk. Like Botelho, he may get some breaks as he will be 1A in the safety room this year.
Sadly I would have put Styles and Kollie in this category. They were very solid all year on specials teams in 2022 and would have been on every unit.
Ziegler will find himself in the rotation at LB this fall, but is still a year away from being a true impact player on defense. However, he will make his presence felt and should be on every unit this year. He seems to be someone who takes tremendous pride in special teams. Look out for some big hits on kickoff from #42.
Junior cemented a role on all units a year ago, appearing in 13 games. He will play a significantly larger role at Vyper, but should be on all units. He has added some more bulk so could possibly take the role of Foskey on punt block.
Sneed is someone who I thought would have been on all units a year ago. However, the staff didn’t want to burn a year of eligibility, limiting him to 4 games. He will have a rotational role on the defense and should shine on special teams. He is a physical freak and could cause havok, especially now that he is rocking a fast number in #3 (this is a real thing)
Bowen is a kid that will want to get on the field no matter what. His physicality and athleticism will make him an ideal candidate for all units. He is a year out from making an impact on defense, but don’t be surprised to see him make a big splash this year. If you needed a reminder, this kid can absolutely crush people.
SIGNED: Linebacker Drayk Bowen…— Kevin Sinclair (@KevinSinclair_) December 21, 2022
Can Drayk Bowen be the next Drue Tranquill? He’s another 6-2 in-state linebacker with leadership skills and special athleticism. An excellent recruiting win over Clemson and LSU.
Some top highlights below… pic.twitter.com/ymNb6Ig5AZ
Don’t sleep on walk ons from the Chicago Catholic League. Auer is a rising Junior from Loyola Academy out of Chicago and looked very impressive in the Spring game. He is a high effort guy who showed tons of physicality this Spring. While there’s a chance he gets passed up by younger guys, he has earned a shot to play on STs.
I’d like to award my first annual @WOPUnation Blue/Gold game MVP to safety, #19, @MartyAuer! 7 combined tackles, 6 for the Blue team, while manning the back half of the defense. Tackles in space, throwing his body around, solid performance. Salute to Marty. pic.twitter.com/Ckh6rF17Mi— Greg Flammang (@greg2126) April 26, 2023
Ausberry is the perfect special teams type of player based on where he is in his physical development. He is freakishly athletic, but not quite bulked up enough to be an every down linebacker. However, he is twitchy and clearly has a knack for making plays. He is the type of athlete you want on every unit.
My Final Pick
My breakout Special Teams players for 2022 is......NOLAN ZIEGLER. He should find a role situationally at LB, but will become a mainstay on all special teams units this year. All the talk is that he has the makings of a future captain....which sounds a lot like a career that will start with a prominent special teams role. Just a reminder of how dominant and explosive he was....which includes special teams highlights.