The UTEP football team returns its starting kicker (Gavin Baechle), punter (Joshua Sloan) and long snapper (Angelo Tejada) to give the Miners a veteran presence with its special teams unit.
The trio, along with the rest of the members of the unit, spend most of their time at practice working away from the rest of the team, which takes a special type of individual.
“We’re self-motivated guys, and that’s what the specialists have to be because you’re not going to get a lot of team time,” special teams coordinator Aaron Price said. “We go down to the Sun Bowl and get work done (individually) and then come back up. It’s a good group, a veteran group.”
Even though they must leave the practice field and head to the Sun Bowl to get their work in, Baechle enjoys it.
“It’s good, we get a lot of good work in down there,” Baechle said. “We’re down there kicking field goals, doing a lot of snapping, holding and punting just to make sure whenever the first game comes we’re all ready.”
Specialists also don’t have nearly as many opportunities in the game as other positions, leading to more pressure when they are called upon.
“It’s the easiest job until it’s fourth down,” Price said. “Fourth down comes, and it becomes one of the hardest jobs. As a punter, the less you play the better we’re doing, so that’s a double-edged sword for those guys. You have to stay motivated and loose during the game because you never know when your number is going to be called. Having to turn the green light on and off in a switch, those are the things we have to continue to focus on.”
Baechle, who is sixth all time at UTEP with 36 career field goals, has a good mindset when his number is called.
“You have to make the most of every opportunity,” Baechle said. “I only get one shot at it so it’s always a big deal. Quarterbacks can throw an incomplete pass and it’s not that big of a deal but then you go in and miss a field goal it’s huge because it takes points away from the team.”
There must be great chemistry among the unit because it all can fall apart if one person along the way doesn’t do their job.
“Camaraderie is huge because it’s all about trust,” Price said. “Everyone says the kicker, the kicker, the kicker, but the snap has just as much to with the kick as the kick does. If we have a really good snap, the laces are up and the holder gets it down, it gives the kicker the time to see the ball. The longer he can see the ball, the better he kicks. It’s kind of an assembly line, you can’t have one part without the other. It’s got to be together. We have to be trusting each other and be on the same page.”
Baechle echoes those thoughts.
“Special teams is all a family,” Baechle said. “We all have very different jobs from everyone else on the team. There’s a lot of pinpoint accuracy with everything that we do. We have to have that relationship with each other that we can trust to do our parts whenever our time comes.”
Similar to other position groups, the specialists have specific goals in mind heading into the 2022 season.
“Our individual goals for us as specialists is to be All-Conference,” Price said. “We want to make all of our kicks and to cover all of our kicks. The better kick or punt we have, the better our coverage is. If we can average 40-42 yards net punting, that’s a really good quality to have.”