Temple looking to fill big shoes at punter

Connor Bowler is among four players competing in spring practice, vying for the starting punting job at Temple.

For the first time in four years, Temple will have a new punter, and according to special teams coach Ed Foley, the winner likely won’t be chosen anytime soon.

Saturday’s Cherry and White spring game will be a part of the evaluation process, but Foley expects the competition to replace four-year starter Alex Starzyk to last at least into the summer, if not into the fall.

“I don’t know which one will be the starter, but they are all competing at a high level right now,” Foley said Tuesday after practice, the next-to-last before the spring game.

All four punters are walk-ons.

The most recent addition is redshirt sophomore Zach Kirby, a mid-year transfer who joined the team in January. He attended Erie Community College, but didn’t punt there this past season. In 2016, Kirby punted for Division III Wisconsin-La Crosse, averaging 32.2 yards on 35 punts.

The player who has been with the team the longest is redshirt freshman Connor Bowler of Downingtown West. He participated in summer workouts a year ago leading into fall camp.

Two other current redshirt freshmen, Drew Levin of South Jersey’s Eastern High and Max Cavallucci of Cheltenham, joined the team in the fall.

Foley said that all four punters have shown marked improvement since the first spring practice March 13.

“At the beginning of spring, they were hitting it for a 35-yard average, and now they are hitting 40-41,” Foley said.

Foley added that the key is not only how far they can kick, but how quickly they can punt the ball. For Foley, operation time, how long it takes the punter to catch and then kick the ball, is critical.

“You can have a guy averaging 45 yards a punt, but if he has a 2.3-second operation time, it will be blocked,” he said.

The 6-foot-3, 195-pound Bowler said that being with the program and redshirting last season was needed for his development.

“I definitely wasn’t ready last year — I can tell that now,” Bowler said after Tuesday’s practice. “It [redshirting] definitely helped my growth, seeing what D-I punters looked like; being behind Stars [Starzyk] definitely helped; and getting used to college life was a big help.”

Foley conceded that having a veteran such as Starzyk spoiled him.

“We now have big shoes to fill, but I feel good about the situation,” Foley said.

Foley, who also coaches tight ends, says he will take his time to give the competitors the best chance to showcase their skills.

“The person who wins the job will have to earn it,” Foley said. “In fairness to the process, I want to make sure we get the right guy.”

Notes

In a less-than-surprising statement, Foley said that receiver Isaiah Wright is likely the No. 1 kick and punt returner at this point. Wright averaged 9.9 yards on 11 punt returns and scored one touchdown. He averaged 24.9 yards on 13 kickoff returns, also with a touchdown. … All-conference safety Delvon Randall is the No. 2 punt returner at this point, according to Foley, while there are several other backup kickoff-return candidates. … Junior Aaron Boumerhi, who made 15 of 23 field goals last year, is the returning placekicker.