COLUMBIA, Mo. – Only one player’s name was listed in two different starting spots on Missouri’s start of fall camp depth chart, Tucker McCann.
McCann is the current choice to take the team’s kicking and punting responsibilities – resuming his role from previous seasons for field goals and kickoffs. New to his role is taking over for Corey Fatony as the team’s punter.
“I knew Corey was leaving after last season. I punted in high school and I have the ability, I think, to do it,” McCann said of his new role. “I was excited, I like it a lot.”
Along with McCann are four other place kickers and three long snappers hoping to make an impact.
As the season goes along, that relatively inexperienced group is preparing to contribute in the early days of fall camp.
“We get maybe five snaps a game and we got to be money on them,” said redshirt freshman Jake Hoffman, who is slated as the starting long snapper. “If we’re good, nobody knows who we are. If we’re bad, everybody hates us.”
Leading the special teams corps is Andy Hill, the longest-tenured Tigers coach who has held seven different roles on Missouri’s staff.
His previous experience had him paired up with wide receivers and quarterbacks such as Jeremy Maclin and Blaine Gabbert.
Hill knows it’s hard to replace experience at any position like Fatony’s, but he’s confident despite early inconsistency that in less than four weeks when Missouri travels to face Wyoming to open the season on Aug. 31 that his unit will be ready for success.
“I think we had ups and downs,” McCann said of the Missouri’s special-teams performance last season. “We can always get better at what we do, but it seems like we’re going in the right direction this year.”
Hill said special teams could be related to a few other sports. It’s like golf because of the flawless repetition needed, and with how quick a lot of special-teams tasks are, it could be compared to a NASCAR pit crew.
“If the tire bounces off into the infield, it’s not pretty,” Hill added. “... It’s an individual sport in a way and they got to be 100 percent consistent. We’re trying to find the guy who can be that. We have X number of days here before we decide and were getting some good productivity, but we also have to do better.”
McCann’s spot kicking field goals and handling kickoffs is a near lock, as the Tigers recognize his resume. McCann’s 57-yard field goal against South Carolina last season was the longest in college football in 2018.
“I carry it like as a chip on my shoulders, I love that feeling when it’s just on me,” McCann said. “I like the pressure, I own it. I want every opportunity I can get.”
While McCann has the inside track to punt as well, others have stood out to Tigers head coach Barry Odom.
Aaron Rodriguez, a true freshman from Newhall, California, turned some eyes at the first three fall camp practices.
“Tucker’s talented at the things that he does, but I don’t want to put too much on his plate,” Odom said. “Rodriguez has come out and had his best day today. So that was exciting to see. We’ve got to keep pushing that. That’s got to be a weapon for us.”
Rodriguez added the biggest adjustment to punting at the Division-I level is the speed of the game.
While in high school, he could boot the ball downfield after holding it for three seconds. Rodriguez said thus far in a Missouri uniform, he’s been lucky to get two seconds.
“Just the last few days, it’s definitely been an adjustment trying to catch up with the speed of the game,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez also knows despite competing for playing time against the other placekickers, they’re all working for the same end goal and McCann has the experience advantage.
“This whole summer, it hasn’t felt like a competition, (McCann has) been a mentor to the three of us, there’s three freshmen in here,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve all just been working out together. (McCann is) like a brother to me now, like we all look up to him.”
The special teams unit has spent a majority of fall camp working on punting with McCann’s veteran leg.
“As the years go on, you mature, you learn the game more, you learn what works for you personally, you learn what you need for your body physically and mentally,” McCann said. “I’ve just fine-tuned the finer details and I’ve been getting better at that.
“It would mean a lot to me because I know they have that faith in me. I know I can perform to the standard that they want. I just feel good about it.”