Mean Green Makes Special Teams Special
Tommy Perry, Special Teams Help Provide Winning Edge
DENTON -- The charge of special teams coordinators across the country is to provide a winning edge in the often forgotten third phase of football. North Texas special teams coordinator Tommy Perry, a special teams player himself at Texas A&M, where he also served as the program's 12th man as a senior, is no different.
What separates him from his counterparts is his overwhelming success in all four phases of special teams.
In 2013, his first season at North Texas, the Mean Green led the nation in blocked kicks (8), blocked punts (5) and blocked punts allowed (0) and ranked fifth in punt returns (14.28/return). The unit was responsible for five touchdowns, including three blocked punts for touchdowns and did not allow a special teams touchdown.
This past season, the unit did not produce as many big plays, but they remained solid in all four phases, highlighted by the nation's fifth-best kickoff return defense (16.37/return) and now-sophomore Trevor Moore, who set a school record and ranked sixth nationally in field-goal percentage, going 15-of-17 on field goal attempts, and was 37-of-37 on PATs, tying the school record for most PATs without a miss in a single season.
"The hardest part and the first thing you need to do as a special team coordinator is to win the hearts and minds of the players and the coaching staff, and that was pretty much set when I got here," Perry said. "It wasn't that difficult. When we had success early, against Idaho, and our punt return and kick return teams were rolling, kids want to be a part of that and good players want to be a part of that."
In explaining his unit's success, Perry pointed to scheme and technique, but also playing with high energy and the right mindset.
"The games that we win on special teams, where we have better number than our opponent in most of the phases, we played faster. No matter the scheme, the guys played faster than the other team because they knew what they were doing and they had good and sound technique."
Moore, one of 30 players named to the watch list for the Lou Groza Award watch list, has not been the only special teams standout under Perry.
Brelan Chancellor was named the C-USA Special Teams Player of the Year in 2013, becoming only the second player in league history to earn first-team all-conference honors as both a punt returner and kickoff returner. He was one of only 10 players in the nation to return a punt and kickoff for a touchdown, and this past season, now-junior wide receiver Darvin Kidsy was one of six players to accomplish the same feat.
"I asked Brelan Chancellor, when he got a chance at the next level, what was the difference for him," Perry said. "And he said that it wasn't anything I said to him, but that he wants to catch them all and he wants to have a chip on his shoulder. He said that every time he gets his hands on the football, he thinks he can score, and that reverberates with the hold-up guys and all the blockers. They see that and feel that, and guys are working hard because they know they have a chance to be on the field when someone scores."
In addition to Moore and Kidsy, who both return this season, the Mean Green also boast a pair of talented punters on special teams. Junior Eric Keena, who also kicks off, averaged 44.8 yards per punt, which if he had enough attempts to qualify, would have ranked 10th nationally. Sophomore Blake Macek, a Conference USA All-Freshman team selection in 2013, landed 40 percent of his punts down inside the 20-yard line in 2013 and 36.67 percent of his punts in 2014.
Whether it's in practice or meetings, special teams work is a point of emphasis for head coach Dan McCarney and the North Texas football program. Perry recalls that McCarney gives them more time in that phase than any other coaches that he has been around, including a five-minute special period, where they individually work on fundamentals in the various phases.
"The difference is the intensity that Coach Perry allows us to have in practice," Kidsy said. "We take it really serious. When we come into meetings, time is very important, and we make sure our assignments are sound. We treat special teams like it's offense or defense. It's a big part of our team."
With all the recent success, and many of the key pieces from this past season, Perry and his players do not shy away from expectations placed on special teams. That includes seeking to extend the nation's fourth-longest streak of 59 games without having a punt blocked dating back to the 2010 season.
"When you put something out there like that, any time there's a national ranking, guys respond to that," Perry said. "You put those numbers up there and you put them up there every practice. You tell these guys that they stand on the shoulders of giants.
"Confidence breeds more confidence, and when you see that, players don't want to be good, they want to be great. It's part of our plan to win, and Coach Mac gives us all the tools to do that. It's up to us as coaches and players to keep this thing going. It's so much easier to look back and say that we can do this because we have done it."