New kickoff rule may limit deBraga’s touches
Trent deBraga thrives on making something big happen on the kickoff return.
The Colorado Mesa University senior did it so well last year, he earned first team All-Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference honors as a kick returner. He had 24 returns for 698 yards, an average of 29.1 yards per return.
He may not get as many chances this year.
The NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel approved moving kickoffs up five yards to the 35-yard line this season and spotting the ball at the 25-yard line, instead of the 20, on touchbacks. Touchbacks on punts or fumbles will remain at the 20-yard line.
“It’s a big change,” deBraga said. “As far as the returns, the numbers are probably going to be limited, because you’ll have more kickers kick the ball out of the end zone. It’s not fun for me, because I like to touch the ball and get as many touches as I can.
“It also works in our advantage, because if we can kick it out of the end zone, you never have to worry about a team returning a kick for a touchdown.”
Colorado Mesa coach Russ Martin expects there to be more touchbacks this season, but he hopes the Mavericks can still entice the returner to come out of the end zone, then tackle him inside the 20. Or better yet, against the goal line.
“If we can have an ideal situation, we want to hang the ball up and put them in that in-between situation, maybe a yard or two deep in the end zone,” Martin said. “I’m guessing most teams will be happy if they can kick it out of the end zone — just to take away the risk factor (of a big return).”
The rule changes aren’t put in to limit returns specifically. They are a result of NCAA data showing football injuries occur more often on kickoffs than an other phases of the game.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if (rules officials) try to do away with kickoffs in some fashion,” Martin said.
Despite the rule change, Martin believes special teams will remain important.
“We’ve been emphasizing to our guys: Special teams in the first two weeks of the season are going to win and lose a lot of games,” Martin said. “You can look at it historically and you’re going to find one or two major upsets, and it’s generally related to special teams.”
The kick-return team also can signal a fair catch on onside kicks starting this season, Martin said. The return team can signal a fair catch only when the ball takes one big hop.
“The first couple times we practiced that, our guys forgot to signal fair catch,” Martin said.
Another new rule in effect this season is if a player loses or removes his helmet, it will be treated like an injury, and the player must sit out the next play.