In our final position preview for the UCF Knights’ 2022 football season, we look at the specialists. Last season, UCF was fairly average for the season in the kicking game, but if the offense struggles, they will need better performances on special teams to achieve success.
We start with the guys who score more points than anyone else.
Daniel Obarski is the incumbent placekicker. His struggles have been well-documented over the years, particularly from long range. From inside 40, he was 7/8 last year and 19/23 for his career. But from 40 and longer, he was 1/6 (1/8 career).
But he showed his improvement in the Gasparilla Bowl, going 3/4, including the only points of the 4th quarter, with his only miss coming from 51, and only just barely. He also improved on extra points, going 53/54, up from 46/49 the year before.
On kickoffs, Obarski has a big leg, but his touchback percentage dropped considerably from 64% (50/78) in 2020 to 51% (38/75) last season. That doesn’t necessarily mean he did a bad job — we were unable to determine if Obarski was intentionally kicking short in order to allow the coverage team to make a stop inside the 25. Either way, UCF was 72nd in the nation in kickoff return yardage allowed (21.21 yards per return).
Coach Malzahn has been active in recruiting for the kicking game, bringing in transfers Ryker Casey (Appalachian State) and Garin Boniol (Louisiana Tech) and freshman Colton Boomer from Lake Mary High School.
Casey could be a kickoff specialist, especially if he is able to show better placement and length. He could also be a long-range field goal specialist, although he did not attempt field goals at App State.
Boniol, the son of former Dallas Cowboys kicker Chris Boniol, is another option for kickoffs and long-range tries.
Boomer is the kicker of the future, however. a 4.5-star per Kohl’s Kicking Camps, he’s probably better known for his LEGENDARY senior yearbook quote:
My senior quote> your senior quote pic.twitter.com/bgT1FFEXHB— Colton Boomer (@BoomerColton) May 22, 2022
Andrew Osteen has this job basically locked up. The senior could be at or near the top of UCF’s punting record books by the end of this season, and is already a watch-lister for the Ray Guy Award.
Last year he punted a career-high 71 times, averaging 41.1 yards per kick, which was actually the lowest of his career (he averages 42.2 for his three seasons). However, he forced fair catches on 30 of his punts for a fair catch percentage of 42.2%, up from 2020, and dropped a career-high 18 kicks inside the 20.
Next in line is Mitch McCarthy, who is perhaps the most interesting story on UCF’s roster. He’s a 6-5, 24-year-old freshman from Melbourne, Australia, who played Australian Rules Football before coming to the states as a punter. He’s not entirely a stranger to the States, having lived for a period of time in California as a teenager. Now, in his mid-20s, he could be an NFL prospect if he gets his way, following in the footsteps of other Aussie punters like Darren Bennett, Mat McBriar, Brad Wing and Sav Rocca.
Remember Mike Hughes’ legendary return in 2017?
Look for the kid wearing #32 jumping around the UCF sideline at the 19-second mark:
Yup, that’s Alex Ward. He’s been here that long.
In 2021, the 6-4 Ward recovered a fumble and was a finalist for the Patrick Mannelly Award for national long-snapper of the year. Now a senior, he’s a preseason watch-lister for the Mannelly Award after announcing he’d stick around one more year before following in Charlie Hughlett’s footsteps in the NFL.
Behind him are redshirt junior Tyler Paul and freshman Aiden Fedigan.
There is limited information on who will return punts and kicks last year, but it stands to reason that both Ryan O’Keefe and Johnny Richardson will figure prominently in the kick return game.
Richardson was UCF’s leading kickoff returner with a 20-yard average on 15 returns, while O’Keefe averaged 26 yards on seven returns.
The punt return game is where the most questions are, as Titus Mokiao-Atimalala’s transfer means that spot is up for grabs. Amari Johnson was second on the team in that category last year, but was seen on crutches this week, and although he is optimistic, his prognosis is unknown: