USC Football

Fall Camp Primer: Special Teams--Long Snappers, Punters, and Kickers

July 12, 2019

I’m gonna be honest, anytime someone asks me who USC’s long snapper is on the team I’m forced to look up (RS) Junior, Damon Johnson’s name up on the roster.  Don’t be mad, Damon--you’re doing such a great job snapping the ball with little to no issues that the announcers ignore you!  And that is a very good thing.

Johnson enrolled at USC in the spring of 2017 after transferring from Citrus Junior College in Glendora, CA.  The freshman started 12 games as USC’s long snapper in 2017 and has maintained the starter’s role ever since appearing in 24 out the 26 games possible--he missed two games in 2017 with a concussion.  Damon, really, we want to talk more about how good you are at your craft.  Damon, we want to let talk about your improvement, however, you’re making that difficult when you’re close to perfect.  By the way, have there been any bad snaps?  Asking for a friend. 

Perhaps the least known player on USC’s roster is Jac Cassante.  Jac is a walk-on (RS) freshman from Loyola High School in Los Angeles, CA and will serve as the back up in 2019.

Damon Johnson could possibly be snapping the ball to a 6-5, 230 pound punter who made his way to USC from the land down under.  

Punter Ben Griffiths is a  27-year old freshman from Australia who played  Australian Rules Football professionally for eight seasons (2010-2017) before retiring due to concussions and injuries.  Griffiths then trained to punt with Prokick Australia, an Australian-based kicking academy.   But he might be a two-way player too!  I mean, when you’re 6-5, 230 pounds where else would you play a guy with that kind of size and professional football background?  At place holder...of course!!  In the spring Griffiths let Trojan fans know that he was also learning to be the holder for place kicking duties.  If the goal is to make it to the NFL why not, right?  While he’s not completely unfamiliar with the American game, Griffiths also offers big praise to coach John Baxter for helping the Aussie’s learning curve.  With the loss of  three punters from last year’s team, Griffiths will need to be a quick study.

Griffiths has a huge leg that can boom punts high and deep, but he’s also still working on his consistency.  His natural abilities and maturity should make the transition to American football rather easy with Baxter’s tutelage.

USC lists three kickers on the post spring 2019 roster.  Due to injuries all three were required 2018.  The place kicker position has been snake-bitten in recent times from off the field legal issues to torn ACL injuries on the field.

(SO) Alex Stadthaus, handled the kickoff duties as a first-year freshman walk-on placekicker in 2018.   Overall in 2018, Alex kicked off 61 times with 41 touchbacks (67.2%) and he pinned the the  opponents within the 20-yard line  six times, with only 1 kick out of bounds.    His 64.3 yards per kickoff ranked 11th nationally. Stadthaus will look to handle kick off duties again this season and will battle Griffiths for the punter’s spot.

(RS) Sophomore, Chase McGrath was lost for the remainder of the 2018 season after he tore his ACL attempting to tackle a Texas Longhorn player who recovered his blocked FG attempt.  McGrath handled all of the kick off duties as a walk-on freshman in 2017 and if healthy will look to compete for starting place kicker spot in 2019. 

The former walk-on who earned a scholarship prior to the 2018 season missed all of spring ball this year while continuing to rehabiltate his knee injury.  Prior to getting injured in the third game McGrath had connected on 6 out of 8 field goal attempts and he was 6 for 6 on point after attempts.  He tied the USC game record with 5 field goals (46, 38, 29, 47 and 36 yards) without a miss and he added 4 PATs against UNLV to earn Pac-12 Special Teams Player of the Week honors.

(RS) Junior, Michael Brown has been at USC since 2016 and after blueshirting was awarded his scholarship.  Brown brought to USC a very stron leg and he soon displayed his leg strength when he took over the kick off duties in 2017 as RS freshman.  His season came to a close quickly when he tore knee ligaments against Stanford and was forced to medically RS.   Brown evetually returned healthy from a 2017 knee injury and assumed the placekicking job for the last 9 games of the 2018 season  Overall in 2018, he hit 7-of-9 field goals and all 32 of his extra point attempts.  In 2019 Brown will look to handle the place kicking and kick off duties.

At this point it really is a true competition between the three so let the competition start with staying healthy for an entire year.

John Baxter will once again be the man in charge of special teams after surving the post season coaching purge.   Last year no matter who was used at punter, the end result was, how shall we say it...YUCK!!   And honestly, that’s being kind.   In a season where almost everything went wrong, punting, was front and center.  It. Was. Ugly.  In 2019 Coach Baxter will have Griffith to work with.  He has the physical tools to make him a lethal weapon so now the goal is to just make sure the ball goes forward this year when it’s kicked.

Coach Baxter is an uber-competitive dude and you learn this quickly when you talk with him.  You may remember him yelling out to Scott at one of USC’s Elite Invite camps to turn off the camera because he has a drill that is proprietary and wants to keep it that way.  While he  has his detractors and he’s fully aware of the criticisms that are kicked  his direction, when you peel back the layers and look deeper at the numbers, sometimes the criticisms are excessive.  We’ll explore those numbers when we look at the potential punt and kick returners down the road.








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