Special teams standouts through the first 5 weeks of the season

  • Geneva's JT Frieders kicks a 40-yard field goal during a home game in Week 2 against Kaneland.

    Geneva's JT Frieders kicks a 40-yard field goal during a home game in Week 2 against Kaneland. Sandy Bressner/sbressner@shawmedia.com

By Mike Miazga
Daily Herald Correspondent
Updated 9/29/2021 5:38 AM

When area of a football team that tends to get overlooked a tad is special teams. This week, time to shine the spotlight on some of those folks getting it done behind the scenes, so to speak.

Hampshire coach Jake Brosman said one key special teamer for him is kick returner Zach Vodraska. "Zach has stepped up as a kick returner for us," he said. "He has scored on a kickoff return and does a good job of giving our offense a good starting positions when he is returning kicks for us."


While still on the subject of the Whips, Brosman added another bright spot has been the team's defensive play. Brosman was particularly impressed with the defensive line and defensive back play in big situations in Week 4 against Crystal Lake Central. "We got good pressure on the quarterback and the defensive backs made it difficult to find gaps for completions," he said. "Really, our defense as a unit has played well this year."

Hampshire is on a two-game winning streak and finds itself squarely in the playoff conversation at 3-2 heading into Week 6 action Friday at Prairie Ridge.

"A big part of our team where we have turned a corner is our confidence," Brosman said. "We have focused on this in practice over the past couple weeks and we played a game (against Crystal Lake Central) where it was evident that we were confident on the field."

Tackling kicker:

Marmion coach Dan Thorpe pointed to kicker Harley Karner as a special teams blue-chipper for the Cadets. "Harley is an excellent soccer player who if his soccer schedule fits, comes to football games and kicks for us," he said. "He had two extra points and a field goal (against St. Ignatius). The key is he is a physical athlete and he enjoys drilling returners on kickoffs when he makes a tackle."

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More kicker talk:

Geneva is also a team blessed with a strong kicker in JT Frieders, who handles the kicking and punting duties. "JT has been kicking well for us," Geneva coach Boone Thorgesen said. "He has made a field goal from 40 yards this year." Frieders did not miss on his first eight point-after attempts of the season.

And even more:

St. Charles North sophomore kicker Hunter Liskza made five of his first six field goal attempts this season and had 5 touchbacks on kickoffs through four weeks, "this while doing all the kicking duties," North Stars coach Rob Pomazak said.

Central standout:

Burlington Central coach Brian Melvin has talked about the importance of kicker Griffin Kolhoff. "Griffin continues to have success on the soccer team as a defender and for the football team," he said. Heading into last week. Kolhoff's only point-after attempt miss was via a bad snap (the ball was never kicked) and his only field goal miss from 37 yards away was blocked. "Griffin is kicking the ball in the end zone and helping this team win with his leg," Melvin said.

Melvin likes how his team's defense has progressed in recent weeks. "Our defense has really been lights out lately," he said. "I am so proud of the way we fly around and play aggressively. It needs to continue for us to have a successful season."


All over the field:

A big special teams contributor for Kaneland has been sophomore Aric Johnson who has a 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to his credit and also recently forced and recovered a fumble on punt coverage. Kaneland coach Pat Ryan also lauded freshman kicker Sam Bruno for hitting on all eight extra-point attempts in his first varsity game against Woodstock North.

Working in unison:

St. Edward coach Mike Rolando noted Jacob Biewer has been a bright spot in the Green Wave's kicking game. "He is consistent on PATs with his holder Carson Busto and long-snapper Owen Morgan, and they get the ball up quick," he said. "Jacob can place the ball or kick a touchback, so that really helps our defense."

Rolando continues to see movement forward this season with his group. "I'd say we are still rounding the corner, but our junior-heavy team is starting to develop and trust their football instincts more and more every game," he explained. "That will allow them to build confidence and play faster. Once that happens, they can develop into a playoff-caliber football team."


West Aurora coach Nate Eimer said one major part of that Blackhawks special teams unit has been Andrew Kolich, who punts and holds on point-after attempts. Eimer noted Kolich also is the team's third-leading wide receiver.

Sophomore standout:

Elgin coach Anthony Mason labels sophomore Matt Lawson as a kid, "who has been doing well on special teams," he said. "Matt is flying around and scored a touchdown on a kickoff return against Bartlett. I think as he gains experience and knowledge of reading blocks and setting up blocks he will be a top player in the state eventually."

Storm surge:

Kai Paz is a special-teamer South Elgin coach Dragan Teonic is happy to have on his team. Heading into last week, Paz was making more than 95 percent of his extra points. "Kai has played well on special teams this year," he said, "and has been excellent on onside kicks and kickoffs."

Touchback city:

Streamwood continues to benefit from the leg of newcomer Joel Sandoval. "Joel has been a huge pickup for us," Sabres coach Keith McMaster said. "He can kick the ball out of the end zone as well as give us different looks for onside kicks. He was a great addition to our team this year."

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