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EWU spring football: Place-kicking duties still up for grabs

This is the last of an eight-part series on spring football at Eastern Washington. Today: special teams

Finally whole after 20 months, Eastern Washington placekicker Roldan Alcobendas is ready for some healthy competition.

Back in September of 2014, while the rest of the Eagles were celebrating a thiller 52-51 win at Montana State, Alcobendas was dealing with a different reality: his second major knee injury.

Alcobendas already had missed the previous year with a left knee injury in his final year soccer at Camas High School.

“I had lost my self-confidence,” said Alcobendas, who suffered more setbacks last year and didn’t see the field until this spring. “But now I feel great.”

Alcobendas is vying with Jordan Dascalo and Brandyn Bangsund for the placekicking duties this fall. “That’s all you want to do, is compete,” Alcobendas said.

Here’s how Eastern’s special teams are shaping up during spring practice:

Place-kicking – Coach Beau Baldwin has made it clear that the position is up for grabs. That wasn’t going to be the case last year, but an injury to starter Tyler McNannay opened a competition that’s still ongoing.

By season’s end Dascalo was handling all kickoffs and Bangsund the extra-point kicks. Field goals were a mixed bag – EWU had a program-low six attempts, making four – but Dascalo made one of the biggest in recent history, a 44-yard game-winner at Northern Colorado.

Meanwhile, Bangsund was 19-for-22 on extra points – not good enough by his standards. “I’m looking for 100 percent,” said the redshirt sophomore from Kent, Washington. “I’m just focusing on being more consistent – sometimes I wasn’t mentally prepared on extra points.”

Dascalo was 9-for-10 on extra points last year.

Baldwin said the competition for placement kicks is “back and forth.”

“Even last year in fall camp, I didn’t know for sure what was going to happen. You always have to be ready to adjust,” Baldwin said.

Punting – Dascalo, a junior transfer from Washington State, is a heavy favorite to keep his job after averaging 40.7 yards last year. The number two punter last year was Gage Gubrud, who’s in the mix to start at quarterback this year.

Long-snapping – The Eagles have gone three straight seasons without having a punt blocked. “That wasn’t because we were perfect,” noted Baldwin, who says the Eagles were “inches away” from giving one up at Northern Iowa. Redshirt sophomore Curtis Billen, who held the job last year, will return.

“I’ve been working on my speed, improving what I need to do,” Billen said.

Holders on placement kicks are still to be determined, Baldwin said.

Returns – For the past two years, All-American wide receiver Cooper Kupp was a standout punt returners as well. Last season, Kupp returned six balls, averaging 15.7 yards a kick. However, Baldwin said Kupp isn’t a sure thing at this point.

It’s the same situation at kickoff return. Shaq Hill’s early-season injury left return duties to Simba Webster, who fielded 31 kicks for an average of 21.9 yards. Others, including Simba’s brother Nzuzi, will get a shot in the fall.

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