Gators’ Special Teams unit looking to improve after last season

One unit that Florida will look to improve on in 2022 is special teams. Florida ranked 54th in net punt average (40 yards), 77th in punt return average (7.3 yards), and 100th in kickoff return average (18 yards). 

Those numbers are obviously not where the Gators want to be, but Florida’s starting punter, Jeremey Crawshaw, says the unit is improving. 

It’s been really good, they’ve bought in,” Crawshaw said. “We’ve rotated in a lot of young guys as well as old guys. We’re trying to get everybody core special team players.”

Crawshaw says there’s an emphasis on special teams because it can help you get to the next level of football. 

“In order to go the next step, you’ve got to be able to play special teams, and that’s a big emphasis for us. Just not only me as a KPS, but for the younger guys coming through,” Crawshaw said. “The real emphasis is that this will get you to the next level. If you know your ins and outs of the special teams, then you can go play on an NFL team for a long time.”

Crawshaw was a 2021 Freshman All-SEC punter last season, whose 44.1 yards per punt ranked second in the FBS among freshman punters. 

Crawshaw believes the new strength and conditioning staff has helped him improve as well as his experiences from last season. 

“It’s definitely been good for all of us. I feel stronger, and also just like the knowledge of playing last year,” Crawshaw said. “Being my first-year last year I was kind of just whatever was happening was happening, and I was just trying to go with it. But this year now that I have the experience under my belt of playing last year, I know what to work on. I know where I lacked, and I was weak last year. So, I’ve been able to work on those points so that I’m better all around.’

Crawshaw isn’t the only specialist returning. Long snapper Marco Ortiz is back in the orange and blue. Ortiz is considered one of the best long snappers in college football. He likely could have signed with an NFL team and started his professional journey, so the Gators are glad to have him back. Ortiz and Crawshaw are looking to lead this unit to a better season. 

The Gators’ kickers weren’t exactly up to standard last season either. They used both Chris Howard and Jace Christmann, who combined for just 10 makes on 16 attempts. 

The Gators are going to lean on two freshman kickers this year, Trey Smack and Adam Mihalek. 

Many people thought the job would be handed to Smack because of his five-star grade by Kohl’s Kicking Camp. However, walk-on redshirt freshman Adam Mihalek has impressed the staff so far.

Mihalek had an impressive spring game for the Gators, connecting on field goals from 49 and 52 yards. 

“They’re both doing really well,” Crawshaw said. “They’re both giving each other a competitive edge. They’re both competitors. Neither of them want to lose. But they’re doing really well.”

Crawshaw says the difference between the two is their experience.

“Maybe just like the experience, to be honest,” Crawshaw said. “They’re both really good kickers in their own sense. Probably just the fact that Trey got here a month or two ago. We’ve had fall camp where we were able to get adjusted with the rush. That’s probably it, just the sense of experience between the two.”

“Trey came in as a freshman. He’s learned a lot. He’s adjusted really well,” Crawshaw said. “Adam has also come in with that mindset that he’s ready to go. So, it’s just between those two. I couldn’t tell you what Billy Napier is thinking about it, but we’ll see.

If I had to give a preseason prediction, I would say that Mihalek attempts the first field goal for the Gators, but that could change as the season progresses. I think Mihalek is probably more comfortable in that role, as Smack just arrived in Gainesville a few months ago. Smack likely has the stronger leg, and I could see him winning the job as well. I think it’s close to 50-50 right now. 

Napier also flirted with the idea of using one on kickoff and the other with extra points and field goals. 

Crawshaw assured us that he will not be kicking off this season. 

 “It probably goes about ten yards. I can’t get my foot to the ball properly,” Crawshaw said.” Punting and kicking are two very different swings. I just can’t get my head around it yet. I’m still cracking at it. I’m not putting it to bed just yet. I’d like to kickoff.”

Napier claims that Special Teams is a big part of the culture they are trying to create. It allows the offensive and defensive guys to play together, Napier said. It’s also a great opportunity for the younger guys to receive some playing time, according to Napier.

Napier announced on Wednesday that the returners are still TBD for the most part.

One thing is for certain, Florida needs to improve on special teams. Florida hasn’t returned a punt or kickoff for a touchdown since Kadarius Toney returned a punt against Kentucky in 2020.

Gators are looking for an improvement in all areas of the unit. Improving on special teams will take some pressure off the offense and defense in 2022. 


Nick Marcinko
Nick is a recent graduate from the University of Florida with a degree in Telecommunications. He is passionate about all sports but specifically baseball and football. Nick interned at Inside the Gators and worked part time with Knights247 before joining the Gator Country family. Nick enjoys spending his free time golfing and at the beach.