While its importance to the outcome of a football game cannot be overstated, Boston College coach Steve Addazio did not mean to diminish special teams play when he listed it well behind other items in his 2014 plan for victory.
Alex Howell, BC’s senior kicker and punter, was not about to take any offense.
“On Coach Addazio’s plan to win, No. 5 is ‘Play great special teams,’ ’’ said Howell, a 6-foot-5-inch, 206-pounder from Florence, S.C. “You’ve also got ‘Don’t turn over the ball,’ and ‘Establish the run game.’ That’s like his two main ones. But, yeah, playing great special teams [is important], because football is a game of field position and a game of numbers.
“If you have better field position, the better chance you have to score. My job is to put points on the board when I can and, when I have to punt the ball, to try and pin the other team inside the 10. That’s it.’’
But Howell will be playing a greater role than his job description suggests.
As the unproven successor to Nate Freese, the kicker/punter who departed last season as BC’s all-time leading scorer with 324 points, Howell will be responsible for instilling in his team the trust it had in the dependable Freese.
“I think the main thing is just trusting in yourself,’’ said Howell, whose playing experience is one game, the 2012 season opener against Miami. “That’s where it starts, especially at the kicking position. You’ve got to know in your mind that you’re going to make that kick.
“If you go out onto the field with that mentality, you’re going to hit it, then your team is going to trust you. But if you don’t trust yourself, then who knows what’s going to happen? But the biggest thing is trusting yourself and trusting in your own abilities and going from there.’’
Those were the lessons Howell learned watching not only Freese, a seventh-round draft pick of the Detroit Lions, and his precedessor, Ryan Quigley, now punting for the New York Jets, but also his older brother, Jimmy, who lettered four years as a punter at the University of Virginia.
“He’s got some length and he’s done well in camp,’’ Addazio said of Howell. “But in somewhat competitive situations here, we’ve got to get his accuracy up, because that’s when it matters. He’d done a good job kicking off, his punts have been pretty good, but his accuracy in competitive situations has got to be better.’’
Howell gave a glimpse of that in BC’s final scrimmage of preseason camp last Wednesday when he went 1 for 3 on field goals. He missed a 49-yard attempt wide right from the left hash, came back to covert a 24-yarder, and later missed a 41-yard try.
“The first [attempt] was 49 and it’s a long field goal, but you have to make it,’’ said Howell, whose personal best was a 51-yard field goal as a senior at West Florence High. “I mean, when your number’s called, you’ve got to step up and you’ve got to play with competitive excellence. That’s what it is.
“I missed [the 49-yarder] and it’s not going to help the team out, so I’ve got to make that play.’’
Howell saw a good example of that in BC’s 29-26 victory at Maryland last Nov. 23.
In that game, the Terrapins tied it at 26 with 5:02 left when Anthony Nixon recovered Freese’s blocked extra-point attempt, which would have given BC a 27-24 lead, and returned it for 2 points. Freese redeemed himself by converting the winning kick as time expired to lift the Eagles to their seventh win.
“He attacked every field goal like it was a game-winner,’’ said Howell of Freese. “He didn’t care if it was even a 20-yard PAT.’’
Howell said he will take the same approach this season as he attempts to handle all three duties for the Eagles: field goals, kickoffs, and punts.
“All in all, camp went pretty well,’’ Howell said. “I grew up a lot and I’m ready to play this year and I’m ready to help the team.’’
Howell will relish that opportunity when the Eagles open the season Saturday afternoon against the University of Massachusetts at Gillette Stadium. During a team outing to Gillette last Friday night for the Patriots’ exhibition game against the Carolina Panthers, Howell watched Stephen Gostkowski convert a 60-yard field goal at the end of first half in the Patriots’ 30-7 victory.
“I’m excited to be out there,’’ said Howell, who will be assisted by long snapper Leonard Skubal and quarterback Tyler Murphy as holder. “The long snapper for the Patriots [Danny Aiken] snapped for my brother in college. So it’ll be cool to get out there on that field and get it going.’’Michael Vega can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.