FAU special teams squad looking up
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.”