Analyzing The UFL Special Teams Units & Camp Competition | Matt Ammendola

Analyzing The UFL’s Special Teams Units & Camp Competition

One of the most underrated parts in football today are the Special Teams units. The UFL features some of the top specialists in the spring football scene, as each team rosters a quality group with one week under their belts in Training Camp.

In this piece, we’ll be breaking down where each franchise currently stands with their kickers, punters, and long snappers – and the impact they could have during the UFL season. Plus, with Training Camp fully underway, there will be some competition.

Let’s get into it.

XFL Conference

Arlington Renegades

K Taylor Russolino
P Marquette King
LS Antonio Ortiz

For the Arlington Renegades, their special teams unit stays completely intact from a season ago. As the saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

Taylor Russolino is one of spring football’s best kickers, putting that on full display in 2020 with the St. Louis Battlehawks. Fans will never forget his 58 yarder that season. In 2023, Russolino continued his quality play, hitting 16 of his 19 field goal attempts, with a long of 56 yards.

It’s still baffling as to why Marquette King is not on an NFL roster. While that story has some of its own controversies, King has been excellent in the XFL recently. With the Renegades last year, 41% of his 46 punts traveled over 50 yards. While his net average was relatively low (32 yards), this is largely due to the XFL’s strange punting rules.

Keeping this unit operating smoothly is Antonio Ortiz, coming off an excellent long snapping season in 2023. Over 92% of his snaps are what Between The Goalposts would qualify as “strikes”. Arlington’s kicks and punts are in good hands with Ortiz at the helm.

DC Defenders

K Matthew McCrane
P Paxton Brooks
LS Trae Berry
K Enrique Yenny Romero*

Matthew McCrane is back with the Defenders after another respectable season with the Defenders. McCrane was 13-17 on field goal attempts in 2023, with a long of 50 yards. He played for the XFL’s New York Guardians in 2020, and didn’t miss a kick that year.

Paxton Brooks is a new addition, replacing All-XFL punter Daniel Whelan. Whelan moved onto the NFL, starting for the Green Bay Packers. Brooks comes in as a rookie, having spent time with the Indianapolis Colts in mini-camp last spring. This will be his first professional experience as a starter. Paxton averaged 42.3 yards per punt in college.

Trae Berry returns to the team with McCrane, which will provide stability at the long snapping position. For new kicker Enrique Romero, he’s having difficulty getting to Camp, which is delaying the battle between him and McCrane. We’ll have to wait and see as to if the Mexican kicker can make it to Arlington in time.

San Antonio Brahmas

K Donald De La Haye (Deestroying)
K Matt Ammendola
P Brad Wing
LS Rex Sunahara

One of the most intriguing stories of the UFL offseason: Deestroying. The Youtube sensation managed to earn himself a UFL contract with the San Antonio Brahmas, joining the room with Matt Ammendola and Christopher Dunn.

Interestingly enough, San Antonio decided to release Dunn before camp, due to Ammendola reporting. Now, the battle will come down to two kickers on the opposite sides of the spectrum. Donald De La Haye hasn’t kicked in a game for over four years, most recently having an opportunity with the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL.

Meanwhile, Matt Ammendola was in the NFL as recently as December. He has kicked in the NFL for years, with some struggles, but did hit a game winning field goal for Houston this past fall. Logic says that Matt should easily win this battle, but we’ve seen crazier things happen. Determination is key, and it’s something De La Haye certainly features.

On the other hand, the return of Brad Wing and Rex Sunahara is great news. Both were excellent in 2023, and had NFL opportunities. Wing spent some time with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and so did Sunahara during the 2023 NFL season.

Wing had a net average of 37.1 yards per punt in 2023 (48 average), with 34% of those traveling over 50 yards.

St. Louis Battlehawks

K Andrew Mevis
K Andre Szmyt
P Sterling Hofrichter
LS Alexander Matheson

Anthony Becht & Co. decided to make a change at kicker. The team released Donny Hageman, and have brought in Andrew Mevis and Andre Szmyt to compete in training camp.

The signing of Szmyt makes perfect sense given the Syracuse connections with GM Dave Boller. Szmyt struggled from long range in college, but has quite a bit of talent and most recently spent time with the Chicago Bears.

On the other hand, Mevis has had a relatively similar story. His college career wasn’t outstanding, but he proved himself at Iowa State which generated an NFL opportunity with the Jacksonville Jaguars. While Andre seems like the slight favorite to win the job, it’s going to be up in the air for these first couple of weeks.

Similar to San Antonio, the punter and long snapper are back. Sterling Hofrichter wasn’t the best punter in the XFL last year, but he got the job done and also flashed his abilities to turn some trickery into magic. Alexander Matheson was spectacular last year (89% strike rate), and is fresh off a stint with the Baltimore Ravens.

USFL Conference

Birmingham Stallions

K Chris Blewitt
P Colby Wadman
LS Ryan Langan

Finding a replacement for Brandon Aubrey isn’t easy, but the genius of Zach Potter struck gold once again. The team picked up Chris Blewitt during the dispersal draft process, who spent the 2023 USFL season with the Pittsburgh Maulers.

Blewitt was excellent with Pittsburgh, joining the team during the season. He ended up being a key piece to their success, knocking through 27 of 33 field goal attempts that year, with a long of 59 yards.

Colby Wadman needs no introduction, having earned All-USFL honors in 2023, averaging a whopping 48.6 yards per punt, with a net average of 42.0. He signed with the Washington Commanders in the preseason, but returns to Birmingham for the UFL season.

Ryan Langan is a spring veteran at this point, spending the last two years with the Stallions. He also earned All-USFL honors last year. According to Between The Goalposts, his strike percentage was an outstanding 100%.

Houston Roughnecks

K JJ Molson
K Luis Aguilar
P Hunter Niswander
LS Logan Klusman

There will be another kicker battle in training camp. The Houston Roughnecks went out and signed JJ Molson last weekend, after picking up Luis Aguilar in the dispersal draft process.

At first glance, Luis is certainly the more accomplished kicker. He was with the Philadelphia Stars for two seasons in the USFL, knocking through 26 of 29 field goals in 2023. His week five performance was nothing short of magnificent, with 8 field goals made – including three over 50 yards. He earned All-USFL honors last year.

JJ Molson, though, brings his own skill sets to the table as well. He’s been tremendous on kickoffs, winning awards for his efforts at UCLA. As a pure kicker, though, he’s struggled, at 69% in college. Molson has NFL experience with the Green Bay Packers, though, which could prove to be useful as the pressure mounts with the Roughnecks.

Hunter Niswander is a punter who doesn’t get enough credit for what he does on a daily basis. Hunter’s spring journey started in the XFL in 2020, where he was a top punter for the DC Defenders. This earned him a starting role with the Dallas Cowboys, but an injury cut that stint short. Last year, he came in mid-season with the Gamblers, and impressed, averaging 45.8 yards per punt, putting 41% of those inside the 20 yard line.

Logan Klusman is an intriguing addition, having been an offseason signing for the Gamblers, who released Ross Reiter. Klusman has no spring ball experience, but was on Houston’s radar before the 2023 season even began.

Memphis Showboats

K Matt Coghlin
P Matt White
LS Turner Bernard

With John DeFilippo coming to Memphis, he brought his entire special teams unit over to the team for the 2024 UFL season. Alex Kessman, Brandon Wright, and Ryan DiSalvo were all released.

At kicker, Matt Coghlin was sensational in the USFL last year. He was 18-19 on field goal attempts, with a long of 55 yards. His consistency wasn’t talked about enough, and it’s surprising he didn’t get a legitimate NFL look.

Matt White has a big leg, and that was on full display in the USFL. In 2023, he averaged 45.1 yards per punt, with 10 of those attempts traveling 50 or more yards.

The New Orleans Breakers had one of the top special teams units in the USFL, which wouldn’t have been possible without the efforts of Turner Bernard (90% strike rate), who joins his former teammates in Memphis.

Michigan Panthers

K Cole Murphy
K Jake Bates
P Brock Miller
LS Jordan Ober

Wrapping up this piece are the Michigan Panthers, who will have a “battle” at the kicking position. This one’s a bit strange.

Cole Murphy has been with the team the past two USFL seasons, as a solid force within their special teams unit. Cole had some ups and downs last year, hitting 16 of his 21 attempts – but overall, provided the Panthers with some much needed scoring which was hard to come by for large chunks of the year.

Enter Jake Bates. Michigan signed the free agent kicker this offseason, to provide competition for Murphy. However, Jake didn’t kick a field goal in college, once. He was purely a kickoff specialist. Which is a position he could fit into for Michigan, as kickoffs will be quite important in the UFL.

That said, with a 50 man roster, it’s hard to see Bates making the team unless he manages to impress at a high level on field goal attempts, something he hasn’t done in a game since high school. It would be shocking to see Bates beat out Murphy, just given Cole’s success over the past two years.

Brock Miller and Jordan Ober are two studs from the New Jersey Generals who found their way onto Michigan’s roster through the dispersal draft process.

Brock has been one of spring football’s top punters for years, booting punts of 80+ yards in back to back seasons. Miller has had multiple NFL workouts, and was with the Los Angeles Rams for a couple of weeks at the end of the 22-23 NFL season. Former Panthers punter Kyle Kramer opted not to join the team for Training Camp due to personal reasons, leaving Miller with no competition in camp.

Jordan Ober got a chance to prove himself with the Generals last year, and that’s exactly what he did. Similar to Bernard, Ober was tremendous through ten weeks with New Jersey, and earned himself a tryout with the Arizona Cardinals following his USFL campaign. Ober also hit the 100% strike rate on snaps, according to Between The Goalposts.

Final Thoughts

Special teams can occasionally make for some of football’s most exciting plays, and the UFL is in good hands with these units on all eight teams.

Something to note is that some of the UFL’s rules will restrict what specialists can do. For example, coffin corner punts no longer exist – any punt out of bounds inside the 25 yard line will come out to the 25 yard line.

Also, extra points are no more, which is what the XFL had last year. While the XFL’s PAT system brings more excitement to the game, no XP’s could impact some specialists. Brandon Aubrey went to the NFL and became a Pro Bowler, which may not have been possible without his 35-35 statline on extra points last year.

Overall, though, those who enjoy special teams should be in for some of the best play we’ve ever seen in spring football this year.

What are your thoughts on these UFL Special Teams groups this year? Who are you most excited to watch play in the UFL in 2024? Let us know down in the comments below, or join the conversation on Discord!