On the opening kickoff of Georgia State's game Saturday against Campbell, returner Darren McCray ran 96 yards for a touchdown. Teammate Albert Wilson helped by running down the field between a Campbell player and McCray. Wilson stayed in between the two but never attempted a block, lest he risk a penalty flag for blocking him in the back.
Later, Georgia State coach Bill Curry marveled at Wilson's football sense. Wilson merely was following orders.
Coaches warn against blocking in the back on kickoff returns "every meeting we have," Wilson said. "Every time we watch another team's film, they repeat it over and over."
Wilson's play exemplifies Curry's philosophy stressing special-teams play. Just four games into the Panthers' inaugural season -- they play Morehead State on Saturday at the Georgia Dome -- it already has paid off several times.
"We will eventually become a dominant special-teams team, not because we're smart, but because we work so hard on it," Curry said this week. "I learned that from Don Shula a long time ago."
Indeed, Curry's strategy descends directly from some of the game's keenest minds. Curry played for Shula, who won more games than anyone in NFL history and was a forerunner in the pro game in emphasizing special teams. He played at Georgia Tech for Bobby Dodd, whose stress on the kicking game came from playing for Robert Neyland at Tennessee. Neyland won six SEC championships and influenced the league with his close attention to the kicking game.
Asked if he used special-teams schemes or techniques that Shula had coached, Curry replied, "Yeah. I mean, basically all of them."
Further, Curry's special-teams coach is Anthony Midget, who played for Virginia Tech, where coach Frank Beamer has used superior special-teams play to turn the Hokies into consistent winners.
Said Midget, "I took those same philosophies that Coach Beamer had and brought them here."
On a day when Curry said he was embarrassed by the team's play, Georgia State's win over Campbell had special teams written all over it. After McCray's touchdown, Campbell squib-kicked its next kickoff, allowing the Panthers to return the ball to their 49-yard line. The good field position led to another touchdown. Punter Bo Schlechter had a remarkable net average of 47.0 yards. Kicker Iain Vance won the game with a 30-yard field goal with five-tenths of a second remaining. Vance is 5-for-5 this season.
"We really feel this is the quickest way we can gain an advantage on our opponents, by placing an importance on special teams," Midget said.
Curry uses many of the team's best players on special teams, rather than use special teams as a way to get backups into the game. Starters make up more than half of each special-teams unit, Midget said.
"If you need a rest, we'll rest you on offense or defense, but not on special teams," Midget said.
Out of a typical 23-period practice, Georgia State uses four periods daily to rehearse special teams, Midget said. Six assistant coaches and Curry are involved in coaching special teams.
"That's something that at big programs you see a lot, the detail," said tight end Bailey Woods, an Auburn transfer who plays on three different special teams.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.