There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the Wisconsin Badgers’ specialists for the 2017 season.
The primary reason is the return of placekicker Rafael Gaglianone, who appeared to rediscover the results of his 2014 freshman campaign last season by converting seven of eight field goals before a back injury sidelined him for the rest of the year.
Also coming back are punters P.J. Rosowski and Anthony Lotti; the former locked down kickoff-specialist duties with impressive results. Gaglianone’s holder, Connor Allen, also will once again be kneeling several yards away from the line of scrimmage on field-goal and extra-point attempts.
The one question mark may be the true freshman long snapper who will have to adjust to the college game and the chemistry of the Wisconsin specialists crew.
With Connor Udelhoven exhausting his eligibility, long snapper Adam Bay should be the true freshman out of the 2017 class to make an instant impact. Though long snapper isn’t a popular position among many fans, it’s crucial to building the chemistry between all facets of the specialists spectrum.
“That’s the challenge, certainly, and he’ll be here obviously with the rest of the freshmen in June, so we’ll start working right away,” special teams coach Chris Haering said on National Signing Day. “Those guys will work on their own on the operation and make it as seamless as we can get. He’s got some big shoes to fill. Uds [Udelhoven] did a heckuva job for us—in the two years I was here, we didn’t have one bad snap, and that’s pretty unique. Adam’s prepared to come in and knows the expectations and he’s excited for it.”
Gone from last year’s team are placekicker Andrew Endicott and Udelhoven. Endicott connected on 13 of 19 field goals after replacing Gaglianone last year, while Udelhoven competed in 53 games and was a confident performer in this group.
Gaglianone’s re-emergence would improve Wisconsin’s scoring ability based on his range and accuracy (44-of-57 career field-goal attempts, long of 51 yards). After only playing in three of Wisconsin’s 14 games last season, he should also be eligible for a medical hardship waiver that would give the would-be senior another year of eligibility.
Behind him, Zach Hintze appeared to get some opportunities to kick during the spring, with true freshman Collin Larsh coming into the program.
At kickoff specialist, Rosowski asserted himself well by averaging 63.7 yards per boot with 51 touchbacks in 79 kickoffs. Only 12 other programs had more recorded touchbacks last season. Wisconsin allowed under 20 yards per return, allowing its defense to pin ears back and thrive.
There needs to be improvement in the punting game, as the Badgers ranked 114th in the nation in net punting (34.62 yards per attempt). The worst? You guessed it: Rutgers.
Lotti averaged 37.71 yards per punt last season, but 25 of his 51 punts landed inside the 20-yard line and he performed better as the year wore on. One bright spot was against Minnesota, where four of his seven punts were down inside the 20 and he averaged 43.4 yards per attempt. If he can continue to pin the ball deep in the opposing team’s territory and improve his hang time and distance, it should be a solid sophomore campaign for the Georgia native.
Wisconsin’s 2017 Specialists
|Sao Paulo, Brazil
|Fond du Lac, Wis.
|New Berlin, Wis.
|Flowery Branch, Ga.