Editor’s Note: This is the eighth story in a nine-part series outlining the 2019 Ohio Football roster, and highlights the notables of the special teams units. The series has broken down nine parts of the roster over the last few weeks with a look at who returns, what’s changed, and what’s to come at each position. The series continues today with a look at the Ohio’s special teams standouts.
This story appears in the Friday, July 5 newspaper on Page B1.
As the head coach of an FBS program, it’s Frank Solich’s job to worry and obsess over every detail.
In 2019, however, he freely admits he has little concern about one big area of his football team.
“Special teams? We should be really good there,” Solich said in April. “We kind of know what we have there.”
In fact, Solich felt so at ease with the principals involved in the kicking game that Ohio rarely repped special teams during spring camp. There were no live reps during the spring season scrimmages, veteran place-kicker Louie Zervos wasn’t used, and while the Bobcats drilled aspects of special teams — individual skill work was a portion of every practice — it was a far cry from the usual zeal Ohio tries to install in that area of the program in the spring.
No, neither Solich nor his staff have suddenly de-valued special teams. But the Bobcats are secure in the knowledge that in the kicking game no program in the Mid-American Conference — and few nationally — are as set for the upcoming season as they are.
“We absolutely love what we have there,” said Brian Haines, Ohio’s special teams coordinator. “You’re talking about a lot of fifth-year guys who have that proven track record. We know what we have.”
What Ohio has is perhaps the best kicker-punter-holder-long snapper group it’s ever assembled. It’s not hyperbole.
Zervos, the kicker, is a fifth-year product that will entering his fourth season as the Bobcats’ kicker. His first three seasons have been outstanding.
Zervos has posted three straight seasons with 100 or more points. He has field goal range out to the low 50s, and is accurate. With a career field goal percentage of 81.4 percent, Zervos tops the Ohio record book (for more than one season) and ranks fourth in MAC history. The all-time MAC record is 84.4 percent, and could be within reach in 2019.
Zervos was 68 of 68 on PATs in 2018, and hit 13 of 17 field goals en route to 107 points. With 335 points, he needs 112 points in 2019 to become the highest scoring kicker in MAC history. Ohio’s own Matt Well (409) and Toledo’s Jameson Vest (446) hold the top two kicker spots in MAC history, and Miami RB Travis Prentice (468) owns the conference scoring record.
“There’s a belief with Louie that every kick will go through, and with good reason,” Haines said.
At punter, fifth-year senior Michael Farkas returns again this fall. He was an All-MAC pick in 2018, and easily could be a multi-year honoree. Farkas averaged a career-best 43.4 yards per punt last season, and his career average of 41.4 is the best at Ohio since Dave Zastudil.
But Farkas does more than just punt. He’s adept at killing the punts inside the 20 (67 of his 172 career punts have downed inside the 20), he has just nine career touchbacks, and he’s yet to have a punt blocked.
Farkas has also been Zervos’ holder over the past three years, and has emerged as a weapon on the kickoff team with directional and ‘skid’ kicks that have helped generate momentum plays not commonly seen on special teams.
“He’s a pretty good athlete,” Solich said. “You can do some things with him maybe you can’t with some other guys.”
At long snapper, fifth-year senior Devin King won the job from Jake Hale in 2018. Hale was a three-year snapper, virtually error free in his duties, but King was just a little bit better, and quicker on the delivery.
That core — Zervos, Farkas and King — will have Ohio positioned as the best special teams unit in the conference. Add in a bevy of experienced kick-off return options — senior D.L Knock averaged 27.1 yards and had a 100-yard TD return in 2018, sophomore Julian Ross averaged 30 per return in 2017, and junior Bingo Long had a team-high 12 returns in 2018 — and Ohio has little to figure out in that department in fall camp.
The one exception is on punt return. Ohio lost both its top punt returners from a year ago — Kylan Nelson and Papi White — but has similar explosive options to potentially fill those ranks in redshirt freshmen Jerome Buckner and Tyler Walton.
2019 Ohio Football
Starters — PK Louie Zervos (R-Senior, 5-9, 179), P Michael Farkas (R-Senior, 6-4, 195), LS Devin King (R-Senior, 6-3, 241).
It’s as good a trio as you can find in the MAC, and should be on the short list nationally as well. Zervos has a chance to become the most accurate, and highest scoring, kicker in MAC history in 2019. Farkas has been brilliant in the field position game for three straight seasons, and has yet to have a punt blocked in his college career. King was a terrific find as a walk-on in the spring of 2018 and has only added to expertise level of the specialists group.
Backups — PK Corey Hare (R-Junior, 5-10, 218), PK Tristian Vandenerg (Freshman, 6-4, 225), LS Justin Holloway (R-Freshman, 6-2, 189).
Hare has been Zervos’ understudy for the previous two years. Vandenberg, meanwhile, will be in fall camp as a walk-on but is expected to fill Zervos’ scholarship in 2020. Holloway, likewise, is serving as King’s back-up.