Specialty players contribute to Lions’ success

Senior Lee Mayhall holds for junior kicker Kevin Henke, as he attempts an extra point against the University of North Carolina-Pembroke Oct. 17. The Lions beat the Braves 62-28 for homecoming.

by Sports Editor Mike Ezekiel

The UNA football team is off to a solid 5-1 start. While the offense and defense receive most of the praise, the special teams unit plays a vital part.

Junior kicker Kevin Henke received the Gulf South Conference special teams player of the week for the first time in his career for his performance against Western Oregon Oct. 10.

Henke, who replaced graduating senior Taylor Pontius, is 28 of 29 on extra points this season. Henke is 11 for 14 on field goal attempts, with nine of 10 nailed from under 40 yards. His longest field goal this year is from 43 yards out.

“We’ve been really pleased with Kevin,” said special teams coach Mike King. “He’s come in with a great mindset and has been extremely consistent.”

Henke played junior college baseball for two years before learning how to kick field goals. He has a soccer background, which has helped him as a kicker.

“Kevin never kicked in high school,” King said. “One day, he decided he wanted to be a kicker and went to Arizona for a kicking camp. Kenny Spencer, one of our former kickers at UNA, discovered him and called me saying, ‘we have our next kicker.’”

Henke said since he was ineligible for Division I football due to playing baseball in community college, Division II was his best route for football.

“When I was playing baseball my freshman year, I went to the football field and kicked a few times,” he said. “I realized I could probably take this seriously. The rest is history. ”

Henke said a large contributer to his development as a kicker is what he learned as a backup to Pontius last season.

“It was great sitting behind him because he is a great kicker,” he said. “Having him as a friend was even better. I watched his footsteps and watched exactly what he did. Now I’m here.”

Junior punter Jeb Millender, a transfer from Itawamba Community College, was second in the GSC in average yards per punt prior to last week. King said although he has not had many punts so far, Millender’s punts get the job done.

“Jeb has the ability to be a real consistent punter,” King said. “When you can get somebody to average 38-42 yards consistently, with a lot of hang time, you can win a lot of football games. That is what Jeb has done so far.”

Millender said his discovery came from UNA’s defensive coordinator Chris Willis.

“My head coach in high school was Coach Willis’ roommate at Delta State,” Millender said. “I didn’t learn that until later, but he contacted me and was interested in me.”

Many fans scrutinize the punter when he shanks a punt, much like the kicker for a missed field goal.

“Whenever you’re pinned back deep and have to punt, you have to take a deep breath and let it go,” Millender said. “You can’t let the pressure get to you, or you will mess up.”

Likewise, coaches and teammates encourage their punter when a punt lands inside the 20-yard line.

“(Quarterback) Jacob Tucker is one of the best about finding me after punts to tell me good punt,” Millender said. “When I make a good punt or nail one inside the 10, it depends on who I walk by, but most of the guys are good about telling me good job.”

In a game where special teams may become a factor, the Lions face GSC favorite West Georgia on the road Oct. 24.

With both teams undefeated in conference play, the winner controls its own destiny for the GSC championship.