Although the football facilities are closed, James Stefanou has become creative in his quest to improve his craft.
Colorado’s senior place kicker has found some area trees to use as “goal posts” as he works on his kicking.
Concerns over the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19 have created stay-at-home orders around the country and forced Stefanou and other athletes to train on their own. There is also uncertainty about the 2020 football season, but CU continues to prepare and BuffZone is previewing each position group for the Buffs. In this installment, we look at the special teams unit.
Stefanou is the veteran of the group, coming in as the lone senior. The 33-year-old from Australia has been the Buffaloes’ primary place kicker the past three years, although he’s battled injuries the past two seasons.
When healthy, Stefanou has elite talent. As a freshman in 2017, he was a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award and a first-team freshman All-American by ESPN.
During the past two seasons, however, Stefanou has been bothered by a hip injury.
He was never fully healthy in 2018, although he kicked in eight games before shutting down for the season. Last year, he made his first 10 field goal attempts, but the hip issues returned and he missed five of his last seven attempts and sat out the final three games.
After the season, Stefanou had surgery and has reportedly felt good throughout the offseason. He comes into his senior season ranking ninth in CU history in scoring (194 career points) and fourth among kickers. His career field goal percentage (72.3) ranks fourth in CU history and he’s got a shot to finish his career on top.
Should Stefanou be sidelined again, the Buffs are confident in their backups. Sophomore Evan Price went 5-for-5 on field goals last season, including a game-winner against Stanford. For his career, he’s 9-for-10.
Another sophomore, Tyler Francis, didn’t appear in any games last year, but went 2-for-2 while filling in for Stefanou in 2018. Freshman Mac Willis also has great potential. The former Cherry Creek High School kicker went 10-for-13 in his prep career.
While the Buffs should be solid at kicker, they’ll have a new face at punter. Alex Kinney has graduated after handling most of CU’s punts since 2015 and Josh Watts was signed as a replacement.
A transfer from Deakin University in Australia, Watts will be a junior and will have two seasons to play. ESPN ranked him as the No. 2 punter prospect out of Australia.
Like Stefanou, Watts trained at ProKick Australia Academy, which has sent numerous punters and kickers to the United States. Watts grew up playing professional rugby.
The Buffs will also have a new face at long snapper after the graduation of JT Bale, who handled every punt, field goal and extra point snap over the past four years.
Three walk-ons will compete for the job. Sophomore James Townsend has been in the program for two seasons, but had season-ending knee surgery in September. Derek Bedell, the nephew of former CU All-American guard Brad Bedell, redshirted last season. And, true freshman Travis Drosos comes in after a prep career in Gilbert, Ariz.
Here’s an initial look at the projected special teamers for the 2020 season:
Position: Special teams
Seniors (2019 statistics): James Stefanou, 6-foot-1, 190 pounds (12-for-17 FGs, 26-for-27 PAT).
Juniors: Josh Watts, 6-4, 210 (transfer; punter).
Sophomores: Tyler Francis, 5-11, 170 (walk-on; place kicker); Evan Price, 6-1, 180 (walk-on; 5-for-5 FGs, 5-for-5 PATs); James Townsend, 6-0, 215 (walk-on; long snapper).
Redshirt freshmen: Derek Bedell, 6-3, 230 (walk-on; long snapper); Mac Willis, 6-2, 170 (walk-on; place kicker).
True freshmen: Travis Drosos, 6-1, 195 (walk-on; long snapper)
Players lost: JT Bale, 6-2, 215 (graduated; four-year starter at long snapper); Alex Kinney, 6-1, 205 (graduated; 39.6 net average on 59 punts); Davis Price, 6-2, 205 (walk-on; kickoff specialist).