FAU spe­cial teams squad look­ing up

The Palm Beach Post - - SPORTS - By Jake El­man

BOCA RA­TON — Though Florida At­lantic’s spe­cial teams unit strug­gled in the sea­son’s first half, red­shirt fresh­man kicker Vladi Ri­vas is try­ing to keep things in per­spec­tive.

“We’re rook­ies right now,” Ri­vas said. “You’ve got to give us some time. Prob­a­bly next year we’re go­ing to be a great unit. No doubt about it.”

Ri­vas, from Mi­ami, and true fresh­man punter Se­bas­tian Riella are both look­ing to get things go­ing in the next few weeks. Ri­vas is now fully re­cov­ered from a lin­ger­ing groin in­jury. Riella’s 34.3 av­er­age yards per punt ranks among the worst in the coun­try by full-time pun­ters.

Riella also had two punts blocked in the sea­son’s first two weeks against Ok­la­homa and Air Force. Ri­vas has made four of his five field goals and 18 of his 20 ex­tra-point at­tempts de­spite strain­ing his groin in train­ing camp.

Ri­vas said he suf­fered the in­jury try­ing to do too much in hopes of win­ning the start­ing job.

“I just started kick­ing and kick­ing, try­ing to get bet­ter and I just got worse on my groin,” he said.

Ju­nior of­fen­sive line­man Bran­don Wal­ton praised Ri­vas and Riella for keep­ing pos­i­tive at­ti­tudes when things went wrong.

“I think that def­i­nitely speaks vol­umes about the younger guys,” Wal­ton said. “We al­ways talk to them about our strug­gles and see­ing them just be­ing pos­i­tive and work­ing through their strug­gles, I know they’re gonna be bet­ter in the long run for it.”

Ri­vas es­ti­mates his range is 55 yards, though the in­jury lim­ited him to 45 yards or less. His long­est field goal this sea­son was from 44 yards in a 25-24 loss to Mid­dle Ten­nessee on Sept. 29.

If Ri­vas were to hit from 55 yards or longer, he’d pass

ar­shall at Florida At­lantic 2:30 p.m.

for­mer team­mate and men­tor Greg Joseph for the long­est field goal in team his­tory. Joseph hit a 54 yarder in a 42-19 loss to Navy last Septem­ber.

Joseph is now with the Cleve­land Browns a nd kicked a game-win­ning field goal against the Bal­ti­more Ravens last week. Ri­vas was among the Owls who cel­e­brated Joseph’s feat and re­cent suc­cess.

“Greg was a great team­mate,” Ri­vas said. “He taught me a lot so I’m just kick­ing the way Greg taught me. But for Se­bas­tian, it’s com­pletely dif­fer­ent be­cause he’s ac­tu­ally a real true fresh­man. He didn’t have (for­mer FAU punter) Ryan Rickel teach him and it’s re­ally hard for him.”

Aside from the kick­ing, FAU’s spe­cial teams unit has been fine un­der first-year coach Jaron Fair­man. Run­ning back Ker­rith Whyte (Semi­nole Ridge) was named Con­fer­ence USA’s Spe­cial Teams Player of the Week af­ter re­turn­ing a kick­off 100 yards for a touch­down against Old Do­min­ion on Oct. 6. Only four other play­ers are av­er­ag­ing more yards per kick­off re­turn than Whyte’s 31.7 yards.

While there have been fewer touch­backs be­cause of Ri­vas’ in­jury, FAU is still only al­low­ing 14.9 yards per kick­off re­turn, the third-best to­tal in the coun­try.

Ri­vas ac­knowl­edged he’ll need to im­prove down the stretch earn head coachLane Kif­fin’s trust if FAU (3-3, 1-1 in C-USA) hopes to make a sec­ond straight ap­pear­ance in the C-USA Cham­pi­onship Game.

“I gotta go out there and make field goals,” Ri­vas said. “That’s how you earn the trust.”

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