Championship teams win in all three facets of the game: offense, defense, and special teams. After a 42-2 victory over the Memphis Showboats, it’s no secret the Birmingham Stallions are winning offensively and defensively. However, what may have been overlooked is how strong the Stallions special teams have been. The Stallions had one of the best special teams units last year, and this year looks to be no different.
Last year, there was no shortage of USFL kicking woes. Three kickers missed more than half of their field goals, and the majority missed more than a third. Michigan, New Orleans, New Jersey, and Pittsburgh all cycled through kickers trying to find an answer. However, the Stallions were one of the few teams to find their guy in week one.
An unlikely hero, the Stallions’ kicker was the least experienced of the bunch. Kicker Brandon Aubrey had not played collegiate or professional football before being drafted by the Stallions in the 2022 USFL Draft. Prior to his USFL foray, Aubrey was an All-American soccer player at Notre Dame. After a few seasons of professional soccer, he decided to make the switch from fútbol to football, and Stallions fans are sure glad he did.
Last year, “Automatic Aubrey” was 21 of 27 on field goals with a long of 49. While other teams struggled in the kicking game early in the season, Aubrey didn’t miss a field goal until he barely missed a 40-yarder in week four—almost halfway through the year. He was also 29 of 32 on extra points, not missing one until week five. He led the Stallions and all kickers in points scored, finishing the postseason with 92. Aubrey was also tied for the third-most touchbacks on kickoffs during the regular season. His fantastic inaugural year earned him All-USFL honors.
Given a) how difficult it is to find reliable kickers, b) Aubrey’s untapped potential, and c) the past success of spring league kickers in the NFL like the AAF’s Younghoe Koo, I fully expected Aubrey to be on an NFL roster after the 2022 USFL season. Unfortunately for him, that opportunity never materialized. But luckily for the Stallions, they were able to bring him back in 2023.
So far, Aubrey has not disappointed. He is 2/2 on field goals with a long of 49 (already matching his long from last year) and 9/9 on extra points. He is one of only three USFL kickers to be perfect in both. He also has the second-longest kickoff average and is one of only three kickers to have a touchback—especially valuable metrics now given the USFL’s new rule moving the kickoff back to the 20-yard line.
If Aubrey continues this level of play, it may be his last year in Birmingham before an NFL team comes calling. Either way, I know Stallions fans are thrilled to watch him continue to have success in the USFL. He was a key piece of the Stallions’ 2022 championship run, and if Birmingham is going to repeat this year, he will have to be a key piece once again.
In addition to their kicker, the Stallions returned their punter from their 2022 championship roster. Colby Wadman, who played college football at UC Davis and spent multiple seasons in the NFL, has also proved to be critical to the Stallions’ success. Last year, he was a top-five punter in punt average (45.1 yards) and punt long (67 yards), but where he really shined was pinning teams deep in their own territory. He was second in the league with 17 punts inside the 20-yard line, which was 37% of his kicks.
Despite his limited work so far this year due to the Stallions’ offensive success, Wadman is off to a great start once again. He has the third-highest punt average (45.2 yards) and is tied for the third-longest punt so far this year (55 yards). He is also tied for second in the league with three punts inside the 20 (50% of his kicks). He has the third-highest net punting average at 39.8 yards.
As stated above, field position has become even more critical since kickoffs were moved back to the 20-yard line. The average starting field position in the USFL so far this year has been the 39-yard line. Having a punter who can pin an opposing team deep in their own territory is a necessity for championship teams, and the Stallions have found that in Wadman.
Last year, the Stallions had the privilege of having All-USFL return man Victor Bolden fielding kicks and punts. Bolden led the league in all-purpose yards and was able to change games with his playmaking ability on special teams.
This year, the Stallions are looking to find someone to replace Bolden. So far, Deon Cain has been returning kicks and Davion Davis has been returning punts. Both have had limited opportunities to showcase what they can do, but both are extremely talented players. Cain did not return kicks in college, but Davis did. In his best year, Davis averaged 25 yards per kick return and 22 yards per punt return. He will look to replicate that success and build upon it in the USFL.
Despite winning the championship last year, the Stallions only had five All-USFL selections. Two of those five (40%) were special teams players. That goes to show how critical special teams were to the Stallions’ success in 2022. For the Stallions to repeat as champions in 2023, they will need to reproduce their special teams success. Fortunately for them, that will be easier with Aubrey and Wadman back for another year. If they can find a productive return man to replace Bolden, they should be able to keep the special in special teams throughout 2023.
What are your thoughts on the Birmingham Stallions this season? Let us know down in the comments below or join the conversation on Discord.