scouting the cats Special teams

UK's special teams: Kicking game looks solid

'Inches of air can be the difference'

jsmith3@herald-leader.comAugust 24, 2011 


Craig McIntosh kicked as Randall Cobb held the ball. McIntosh has been juggling ROTC, fraternity duties and football.


  • Scouting the special teams

    The main man: Senior punter Ryan Tydlacka has improved his average each season and will start for the third straight year. He averaged 43.8 yards a punt last season, including a career-best 73-yarder.

    The supporting cast: Returning place-kicker Craig McIntosh is back after making 11 of 15 field goals last season and 34 of 35 extra points. His highlight kick was a career-long 50 yarder against the wind. Joe Mansour, a sophomore, is likely to be the team's kickoff man, but he is hoping to develop into a complete kicker. Coaches say he has the leg strength and accuracy to do it.

    Newcomer to watch: Randall Burden, among others. Even though he's a senior, Burden will be new to punt returns for UK and will replace the departed Randall Cobb. Other kickoff specialists could include Gene McCaskill, Raymond Sanders and a host of freshmen, according to coaches.

    Outlook: Special-teams coach Greg Nord was none too pleased with the Cats' effort in his first season when they gave up 11.9 yards per punt return (while managing just 7.1 yards themselves) and 23.5 yards per kickoff runback (to just 22.8 yards themselves), but Nord and the UK head coach hope that a stronger, more physical coverage team will right some of the wrongs from last season and make this a strong overall unit behind some solid kickers.

  • This is the sixth in a series of nine stories analyzing the UK football team position by position. Coming Saturday: Quarterbacks

Some might cringe a bit when told that others think they are a perfectionist.

Not Craig McIntosh.

The junior smiles broadly when told that his special-teams coach called him just that.

"I like that he thinks so," McIntosh said as if he'd been paid the ultimate compliment.

McIntosh is not your average college kid.

He's the starting place-kicker for Kentucky, even though he claimed that job in a backward sort of way.

So when told that UK assistant coach Greg Nord called him a perfectionist, McIntosh can't help but smile.

"I feel like I have to be," he said. "In my job, we're talking about a few inches of air that can be the difference."

If McIntosh, a former kicker at Lexington Christian, wasn't playing football for UK, he guesses that he'd probably still be an active member of the school's ROTC. He'd probably still be a senator for the school's student government.

He'd probably be more active in his fraternity.

But ever since McIntosh saw in a newspaper article that former coach Rich Brooks was looking for a kicker two years ago, he's had to scale back some of his other aspirations.

"Football has really changed the focus of my life," McIntosh said.

He's become so involved in football that he and his father approached the head of UK's ROTC program in May about the logistics of getting out of his contract, which will require him to pay back three year's worth of books and tuition.

McIntosh's move surprised head coach Joker Phillips.

"That was a shocker to me," Phillips said this summer. "We accommodated him and the obligations he had with the military.

"I loved the fact that he was there and it spoke volumes to our other kids when a guy goes from early-morning runs with the ROTC, leaves there, then comes and runs with us."

The kicker is the kind of player you want in your living room and your football field, Nord said.

"He's the kind of guy you wouldn't mind your daughter being married to," Nord said. "He's the kind of guy you wouldn't mind being your son. He's a great, all-American kid. He's mature. He's got all of his priorities in life in order."

McIntosh, who is still awaiting his release from the military, was sad to leave his ROTC family, but he felt he owed it to himself to give kicking his full attention.

"It was a stretch at times trying to do both," McIntosh admitted. "Part of me was frustrated being stretched in so many directions, it's hard to be the best I can be at both things.

"And I want to be the best."

That's clear, UK's special-teams coordinator said.

"He tries to hone his craft every day," Nord said. "He's a perfectionist and he tries to get better every day. ... (Consistency) has been the biggest reason he's been able to have such success."

That's how McIntosh has managed to keep his starting job on the special teams as the team's field-goal and extra-points kicker.

Last season, McIntosh made 11 of 15 field-goal attempts, including a career-best 50-yarder at Mississippi, and he nailed all but one of his 35 extra-point attempts.

He's also currently in a battle with sophomore Joe Mansour for the team's kickoff duties.

McIntosh, who is now on full scholarship for football, never imagined he'd be here when he left LCA and decided to just be a "normal student."

That normalcy stopped the day he went for his usual morning workout with the ROTC and then headed over to UK's practice facility for a tryout.

McIntosh, who was home-schooled until his sophomore year of high school, transferred to LCA his junior year to play football and run track. He also played soccer.

His late start meant he lost out on the recruiting process. He went to two kicking camps before his senior year where he said he was ranked sixth in the country in distance and hang time, but he never pursued a scholarship.

He pondered going to Western Kentucky to play there, but wanted to stay close to home because he "couldn't imagine wearing any color but blue, certainly not red."

He's been true blue ever since walking on.

"I love football; I'm enjoying every minute I get out here and I'd love to use the next two years to continue playing in college," McIntosh said.

And he hopes his perfectionism will lead him to bigger and better things.

Will that include the NFL?

"I don't want to put all my eggs in one basket," he said, "but I'd love to get consistent enough to have that as a possibility."

Other special-teams notes

Two-year starting punter Ryan Tydlacka has been "unbelievable" this off-season, Coach Joker Phillips said this week.

"He studies his craft, he studies the game; he studies how people protect him; he studies how people rush him."

Phillips also said the coaches have started to narrow down returners for the kicking game. Senior cornerback Randall Burden has earned the starting nod as punt returner. Kickoff returners are still being whittled down.

In general, special teams will have a different look, and not just because the unit lost long-time returners Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke.

"I really like some of these guys that we're going to cover with," Phillips said. "That will be the biggest improvement we have is the number of quality guys that will be covering."

Crawford likely to sit out WKU game

Defensive tackle Mark Crawford, who was suspended twice last season, is likely to sit out the first game versus Western as he tries to do what Phillips has asked him to do. "He's done some of the things we've asked and they've been good, but we will probably withhold him from the first game," the coach said.

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