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New punter Evans getting used to kickin’ it at IU

Friday special teams notebook? Friday special teams notebook.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press
Indiana kicker Charles Campbell attempts for an extra point against Michigan State during the first half at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020.
Junfu Han via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Indiana’s special teams play was greatly improved last season, the unit’s first under new coordinator Kacey Teegardin. The Hoosiers’ challenge now is staying on an upward trajectory, particularly as they introduce some new faces to key roles.

Let’s check in on the specialists, shall we?

Evans getting acclimated

The first time punter James Evans ever donned football pads was last month in IU’s third practice of the spring. That simple fact has made for a busy spring for Teegardin, who along with the rest of Indiana’s specialists, has been tasked with teaching the 19-year-old New Zealand native about the finer points of the game.

For Evans, that includes when he can and cannot take his helmet off, and when he can and cannot tie his shoes.

“The dude’s out there taking his helmet off before he even gets off the field,” Teegardin said. “Well, you got to tell him that’s a penalty. So he’s very raw. He’s very new to a lot of this. We’re having to take him day-by-day, step-by-step.”

That, of course, was expected, given that Evans has never played football. Hell, he never even stepped foot on United States soil before enrolling in Bloomington in January. But the Hoosiers believe Evans, the program’s latest recruit from renowned training academy Prokick Australia, is worth the extra effort.

“He’s doing really well in practice,” kicker Charles Campbell said. “I’m proud of him.”

Evans, a former high school rugby player who moved to Melbourne to train at Prokick last year, would be the second consecutive Prokick product to win the starting job if he continues to progress toward his goal this offseason. Haydon Whitehead was a very good punter for the Hoosiers over the past four seasons, and IU is counting on Evans to mirror Whitehead’s production.

First, he has to learn the game and all the things that go into it.

“This spring is so invaluable for him,” Teegardin said. “To get him mid-year is a huge deal because of those things. In camp, if he’s gonna be the guy Day 1 at Iowa, you can’t take time to (say), ‘Hey man, you can’t take your helmet off before you’re off the field.’ He’s tying his shoe and coach is calling an emergency punt — I love when Coach Allen does that; it keeps everyone on their (toes) in the flow of a game — and James is out there tying his shoe. You don’t have time to tie your shoe. The play clock is running. It’s been a learning curve for him, but he’s a tremendous young man.”

Hoosiers have a new holder, to boot

Whitehead’s departure creates a hole at more than just punter. He was the Hoosiers’ holder, too.

So one of IU’s special teams priorities this spring has been breaking in new holder Chase Wyatt. The Noblesville, Ind. native is a walk-on punter who joined the program during fall camp in 2019.

Although Wyatt has not yet seen any game action during his two seasons as a Hoosier, he was penciled in as IU’s backup holder last fall.

“Chase and I, we’re roommates,” Campbell said. “We’re very, very close. We normally work a lot together over the summer, so it’s just getting those live reps and getting under pressure with Chase to see if he does well, which he has done very well. Everything’s going very smoothly.”

Campbell continues to grow

Charles Campbell shouldered high expectations when he joined IU’s program in 2018. Not only was he carrying the tag of U.S. Army All-American, he was the Hoosiers’ first scholarship freshman kicker since Mitch Ewald in 2009.

Last season, his first as the No. 1 leg in the special teams stable, Campbell followed through on the recruiting projections, hitting 10 of his 11 field goal tries and all 25 of his extra-point attempts. Phil Steele named him the Big Ten’s best kicker, while Pro Football Focus graded him as the best kicker in the conference and the seventh-best kicker in the Power Five.

This spring, beyond helping Wyatt get up to speed, Campbell is focused on two main points of emphasis.

“I’ve been working on my field goal height and accuracy from distance,” he said.

In the Outback Bowl loss to Ole Miss, Campbell demonstrated his skill in both departments by booting field goals of 50 and 53 yards. In doing so, he became the second Hoosier (Chris Gartner at Kentucky on Sept. 30, 1972) to drill two 50-yarders in the same game.