After last week’s 46-23 district victory over Jefferson City, Blue Springs football head coach Kelly Donohoe was sitting in his office, reflecting on the win.
“You know what?” he asked. “It’s wouldn’t be too crazy to say that our punter, Josh Dodge, was the MVP of some of our games this season.”
He paused for a moment, and added, “In fact, our special teams have been really good this season. They’re a big reason we’re where we are.”
The 9-2 Wildcats had their way with Jefferson City in a game in which the offense, defense and special teams all starred – quarterback Chase Donohoe had three touchdown passes, Aveion Bailey ran for 136 yards and a score and defensive linemen Khristian Boyd and Daniel Parker each had five tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
“Every year we’ve won a state championship, or played for a state championship,” said Donohoe, who owns four state titles and two runner-up trophies, “we’ve had a great punter and kicker, and that’s certainly the case this season.”
In Josh Dodge and Sam Knowlton, the Wildcats have two of the premier special teams standouts in the state.
Dodge is averaging just more than 41 yards a punt, with a long of 57 yards. But what is most impressive is that five of his 28 punts have landed inside the 20-yard line.
Knowlton is 6-for-6 on field goals (with a long of 37), 27-for-29 on extra points and consistently blasts the football into the end zone on kickoffs.
And long snapper Zach Van Dorn is the guy who makes it all happen with his pinpoint snaps.
“We call them the ‘Three Amigos,’” Donohoe said, grinning, “because they’re always together. They’re three great players and even better kids.”
On a punter’s nightmarish, wind-blown Tuesday afternoon, Dodge is attempting to get off a punt that is blown sideways and back toward the Wildcats end zone.
He grumbles, calls for another snap, and gets off a perfect spiral that sails out toward midfield.
“That’s more like it,” Dodge said.
His two amigos nod in agreement.
“We pay so much attention, so much detail to special teams,” said Dodge, who like Knowlton, attends special camps in the summer to help him fine-tune his craft. “And we watch a lot of film. I have so much faith in Zach, but I also have faith in the other 10 guys out on the field. Special teams is a big deal at our school – we have a lot of our best players on special teams.
“They’re blocking for me, Zach is snapping the ball – all I have to do is punt. I have the easy job.”
Knowlton has the same confidence in Van Dorn, an undersized 5-foot-11, 200-pound center.
“I know that the ball is going to be right where it should be every snap,” Knowlton said. “I have faith in all the guys on special teams. We all support each other and hang out.”
When asked about his presence on the line, Van Dorn has a quick reply.
“When you play next to Daniel (Parker) and Khristian (Boyd), you don’t have to be that big,” he said, chuckling. “They take care of the big guys so all I have to do is snap.”
And, much like a mailman who is only thought about on those rare days you do not receive any mail, Van Dorn knows that he is the unknown figure on punts and field goals – unless a snap goes awry.
“I have a short memory out there if I have a bad snap,” he said.
Knowlton, though, quickly interrupts and adds, “But he never has a bad snap. He’s like the mailman who always delivers the mail and never misses a day.”
So, the Three Amigos head off to the west end of the Peve Stadium end zone to punt, snap and kick while their teammates go through their daily drills.
“The other guys work a lot harder than we do,” Dodge said. “I got winded running up the hill (from the football field to the locker room) before practice.”
Yet, when his teammates are counting on him to nail an opponent inside the 20-yard line, he usually comes through.
“When I get off a punt and see it go inside the 10- or 5-yard line, it’s just a great rush,” Dodge said. “No team is going to go 90 or 95 yards against our defense. When I get off a punt like that, I know I’m doing my job.”