Specialists Bring Plenty Of Experience To Illini Special Teams

Anthony Santella is looking to improve his consistency as the Fighting Illini punter.
Anthony Santella is looking to improve his consistency as the Fighting Illini punter.

April 14, 2009

Often overlooked, except for their crunch time performance, kickers have one of the most crucial jobs on any football team. Fortunately for the Orange and Blue, all the key components in the kicking game return after a stellar 2008 season.

Sophomore kicker Matt Eller proved his abilities a year ago, hitting 15 of 20 field goal attempts, including a 46-yard game winner against Iowa. Still, the Jacksonville, Fla., native is working hard in spring practice to improve.

"Last year is last year, so I'm focused on the future," Eller said. "I'm really working on getting my percentages up. I was 75 percent last year, and I know I can get that number up."

Over the past two seasons, junior Anthony Santella has become a familiar face as the punter. As a sophomore, Santella punted for over 2000 yards for the second straight season, pinning the opposition 17 times inside its own 20-yard line. Santella has had a busy spring season implementing a new punting scheme and taking over holding duties for the departed Jared Bosch.

"I think the new punt scheme will really help us win the battle for field position more consistently," Santella said. "Guys will be flying down the field making plays and putting our defense in a good position. As far as holding goes, we are working to make it second nature and make sure the ball is in perfect position for Eller to put points on the board."

Getting Eller and Santella the ball will be junior Tad Keely. The Oswego, Ill., native returns after snapping all punts, field goals and extra points for the Illini a year ago. For Keely, spring ball has been about continuing consistency.

"I need to be perfect every time I snap the ball," Keely said. "It all starts with me getting the ball back there, so Eller and Santella can do what they need to do."

Kicking may not be the most glamorous job on the football team, but a game-winning field goal or a downed punt on the 1-yard line in the fourth quarter are proof of its importance for winning teams. Having experience and talent in the kicking game will assuredly pay off for the Fighting Illini in 2009.