San Diego State running back Kaegen Williams was named the Mountain West Conference Special Teams Player of the Week on Monday. The senior blocked a punt (that was returned for a touchdown by Tyrell Shavers) in the Aztecs 38-14 win at Arizona.
He also had 55 yards from scrimmage on just 10 touches. Williams is a first team-caliber running back, but his coaches rave about his unselfishness. Putting an athlete as talented as he is on special teams is a huge advantage.
“We have tremendous depth at tailback and that’s why we utilize them in so many different positions, to be able to get them on the field and put them in spots where they all can touch the ball and do something with it,” says Aztecs offensive coordinator Jeff Hecklinski. “Special teams is another opportunity.”
This is not a new concept for SDSU. Over the last three years they’re among the nation’s leaders in punt and kick blocks because they put an emphasis on making those splash plays.
“We call it punt block and return, not just our punt return team,” says Aztecs special teams coordinator Doug Deakin. “It’s drilled from Day 1 how to get to the block point, when you get there how should your hands be, where should your eyes be, all of those techniques.”
Of course, it also helps to find players who have a natural knack for it.
“Identifying which guys have the right get off; they don’t take a false step, they get right out of the blocks just like a sprinter, they have a good cue with their eyes on the back tip of the ball to initiate their first step (at the snap),” says Deakin.
Defensive back Trenton Thompson is one of those guys. He’s blocked two punts in two years and simply has that innate ability to get to the backfield in a very fast, very straight line.
Deakin can identify those guys because he was one of those guys. He took over as special teams coordinator in 2018 but has been in the system for a long time. He arrived on campus as a walk-on in 2009 and, over the next two years, made an impact on special teams.
He was that guy who always put in the extra work and was nominated for the College Football Rudy Award, named after the former Notre Dame walk-on and subject of the 1993 movie. It’s a recognition he’s proud of to this day.
“Talk about Top-10 movies, if not Top-5,” says Deakin. “I loved watching that movie growing up. It’s certainly something I’ve taken to in the sense that you’ve gotta work your butt off every day or else somebody’s gonna take your job or you’re not going to be successful at it, and that would be the worst thing. So, certainly that movie and its narrative is work hard every day and chase your dreams.”
That’s exactly what he did. After his senior year he joined the Aztecs as a graduate assistant and joined the coaching staff in 2014. Since then he’s been working with special teams and trying to get his players caught up on fabulous sports movies of the early 1990’s, which has been an uphill battle.
“I date myself all the time. I throw all sorts of quotes out there like ‘You’re killin’ me Smalls!’ … (the players look around as if to say) Who’s Smalls? No Sandlot … and I know that’s baseball … but I would say 50%. 50% of my players have maybe watched or heard of Rudy.”
Well. I think I know what their homework is going to be for the rest of this season.
The Aztecs try to go 3-0 when they host Utah on Saturday evening up in Carson. SDSU is 7-2 in their last nine games against Pac-12 teams.