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Friday, December 6, 2019

Football

Meet the Scott Street Specialists, Houston’s ragtag special teams unit that turned into ‘family’


Junior kicker Dalton Witherspoon and senior punter Dane Roy, along with other special teams players, have become close on and off the field over their years playing together. | Trevor Nolley/The Cougar

Junior kicker Dalton Witherspoon and senior punter Dane Roy, along with other special teams players, have become close on and off the field over their years of playing together. | Trevor Nolley/The Cougar

When former long snapper Byron Simpson medically retired from football in 2017, he left one mission for then-sophomore punter Dane Roy — continue leading the Scott Street Specialists.

The group and Twitter account, founded in April 2015 by Simpson as @UH_Specialists, began as a means to promote and unite Houston’s special teams, a unit mostly neglected by the everyday football fan.

“We don’t get a lot of game time,” Roy, now a senior, said. “Therefore, no one really sees us. It’s kind of a lighthearted jab of life as a student athlete.”

Since then, the Scott Street Specialists, an eclectic group made up of Roy, junior kicker Dalton Witherspoon, senior long snappers Nick Wildberger and Anthony Cantu and others, has grown to encapsulate more than just a running social media joke.

Bigger than Twitter

Although the Scott Street Specialists enjoy messing around on their Twitter account, such as when Wildberger successfully attempted the bottle cap challenge via long snap, the group values time spent in person.

“We’re together almost all the time,” Witherspoon said. “You’re around them so much, and you talk to them all the time. It just builds that relationship with everybody.”

Roy said bonding is important for the group of teammates and friends. They live, celebrate wins and go on lake trips together.

“You obviously want to have fun with each other,” he said, reflecting on the time they’ve spent together over the past four years. “We’re big on family and big on being friends.”

Their relationship comes despite the drastically different lives led by those a part of the Scott Street Specialists.

Roy, a 30-year-old former ice cream salesman who found his way to Houston after some time in the Australian Football League, is one of the biggest oddballs.

Much to Witherspoon’s delight, the team has been shocked with the Scott Street Specialists’ connection.

“They’re all pretty surprised that we’re so close,” he said, “especially with Dane being 30 years old and hanging around a bunch of us.”

Special teams coordinator Blake Gideon is happy with his diverse unit’s camaraderie.

“They’ve all got some different views on things, and that’s what I think makes that room so much closer and more special than a lot of rooms I’ve been involved with,” he said. “They’ve all got enough of a sense of humor, nobody gets butthurt.”

Roy agrees.

“We’re all pretty close,” he said. “We’ve done it all.”

And it shows on the gridiron.

On-field translation

In a 2019 season where the Cougars have struggled to keep up with opponents on offense and defense, special teams have shined.

“These units have experienced some success this year,” Gideon said. “We found the end zone a few times on coverage units, we’ve got our hands on some balls and we’ve garnered some pretty good net yardage on punt.”

Roy and his right leg brought much of the success.

After breaking a nearly 71-year-old school record with a 54-yard punt average against Cincinnati, Roy earned praise from head coach Dana Holgorsen.

“Dane is our best player,” he said after the loss. “He’s as good as I’ve been around.”

The Aussie has continued putting up impressive numbers since, averaging 47-plus yards in games against UConn, UCF and Memphis.

Of his 16 punts over the three matchups, seven were downed inside the 20, six went for at least 50 yards and none resulted in touchbacks.

Witherspoon has also performed well this season. In Houston’s win over Prairie View A&M, the Moore, Oklahoma native booted a career-high three field goals.

He has since matched it thrice, first against the Tulane Green Wave and twice more against the Mustangs and the Knights.

“He doesn’t get too high, and he doesn’t get too low,” Gideon said. “That’s what allows him to experience the consistency he has this season.”

As for Wildberger, his name does not come up in media coverage of the Cougars, and that’s a positive for Gideon because “that means he’s doing his job.”

“Nobody knows his name,” he said. “If those guys are known, it’s usually for a bad reason. If that guy goes completely unnoticed, it’s a good thing.”

One special teams member has come up more and more, however — freshman kicker Kyle Ramsey.

New faces

The Scott Street Specialists adopted Ramsey and freshman long snapper Davis Beal as their newest members.

“It helps the younger guys,” Dalton said of the role the special teams group plays for freshmen. “Being able to have that family environment where you can go and ask anything is just really helpful.”

Ramsey, a 6-foot-3-inch former soccer player, has quickly transitioned to be Houston’s main kickoff guy, a position he has excelled in so far.

“His job is to kick touchbacks,” Roy said. “When he does that, you see the emotion and energy on the sideline for him performing at his best.”

Of the 48 kickoffs Ramsey has on the year, 22 were touchbacks, which is not bad for a young leg.

For Gideon, who admits he has “lit into Kyle a couple times this season for different things,” Ramsey is a potential special teams leader.

“He welcomed the coaching and instruction,” Gideon said. “He’s not an emotional guy, which is really what I’m looking for in those specialist positions.”

With Roy, Witherspoon and the others leaving within the next year and a half, Ramsey could very well be the next to step up as head of the Scott Street Specialists.

Parting ways 

Just like one of Roy’s punts, what goes up must come down.

The bulk of the group will separate once the academic year ends.

Wildberger and Cantu will graduate, and Roy will soon return to Australia, where he would “like to go home, get married and have a family.”

But Gideon is confident the Scott Street Specialists will remain friends.

“You can tell that they love one another,” he said. “They love being around one another, and that’s what makes that room so special.”

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