Marshall football: Special teams duo seeks continued success
HUNTINGTON - Marshall kicker Justin Haig and punter Tyler Williams had 2012 seasons anyone in their positions would enjoy. Both ranked among the best in both Conference USA and the Football Bowl Subdivision in several categories.
Their mission this spring is less about the spectacular and more about steadiness. They want to build consistency in 2013, so that their rousing successes aren't matched by major errors. And now that both feel healthier than they did last season, they think their bodies will allow them to gain that stability in their games.
Haig's health problems were well known. After booting a career-long 45-yard field goal to beat Houston - while hitting a perfect squib on his final kickoff and making a big solo tackle on another kickoff on top of that - Marshall Coach Doc Holliday revealed the significant pain from back spasms that Haig was suffering.
He was in treatment three times a week and taking muscle relaxers and antibiotics just to play.
But Williams, a Football Writers Association of America freshman All-American, had back issues as well. Disc problems had him in pain throughout last season.
That didn't stop him from averaging 45.2 yards per punt, second-best in C-USA. It would have been ninth-best in the FBS if he had enough punts to qualify.
Haig said the offseason has done wonders for his back pain, which has allowed him to double down on conditioning.
"It's a lot better," the 5-foot-8, 188 pound redshirt junior said. "I feel a lot more energized and can do stuff in the weight room. The first couple of months or so, January or February, it was still lingering. I couldn't do squats and all that stuff. I feel a lot better now, so I can focus a lot more on kicking now."
Williams said he and the trainers have been working diligently to strengthen his back and core muscles, to hopefully work around the disc and get those muscles to help relieve the pain.
"Last season I went through the whole season with it," Williams, a 6-foot, 188-pound sophomore, said. "It's something your body gets used to, which I guess is kind of good and kind of bad. Definitely in spring it feels a lot better. I can hit more balls and don't feel like I'm torquing the ball with bad form. "
Williams was named to the all-C-USA freshman team and was named a Ray Guy Award semifinalist for his first season at Marshall.
Haig finished third in the conference in kicking scoring (8.2 points per game) and field goal percentage (81.2 percent), earning all-C-USA honorable mention. He also finished 40th in the FBS in overall scoring. But both admit they could be better.
"I missed a 21-yard field goal and that still haunts me to this day," Haig said.
"I could have had a much better season just if that goes through."
And while Williams' punting average was high, Marshall's net punting average, 37.57 yards a punt, was a bit lower down the list, ranking 47th in the FBS.
The Herd allowed 9.78 yards per punt return, 84th best in the FBS. Williams admits that some of his punts contributed to that, and he wants to make sure that bad punts and low punts disappear.
"It's all built around consistency, not averaging 50 yards a punt, but if I can get 45 or 42 and get consistent punts every time," he said. "Eliminate the bad punts and have all good punts, that's probably the biggest thing."
Their improved health will play a factor in that. Both Williams and Haig admit kicking and punting are weird motions that put a great deal of pressure on players' backs. Stronger back and core muscles will cut down on the pain and allow them to focus more on proper form and technique rather than how to play through those aches.
"It's all about doing the little things," Williams said.
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.