Ayers returns UH to special place
Demarcus Ayers may come off as soft-spoken, but during a game he is quite the opposite.
“He’s shy, but when you get him on the field he is real fiery,” said special teams coach Jaime Christian.
There’s nothing shy about his numbers either. In fact, they speak volumes. Ayers is coming off a UH freshman record where he returned 1,021 yards as a starting kickoff returner, and was just second of the school record, regardless of class. Now a sophomore, Ayers was named to the American Athletic Conference’s First Team.
“I try to follow off my teammates’ lead,” Ayers said. “I give them more credit than me because they do a great job of setting me up. We really have to be on the same page to be successful.”
Ayers helped lead UH to a 25.56 average kickoff return in 2013 — fifth best in the nation — after the 2012 team was ranked 97th and averaged less than 20 yards per return.
“I kind of visualize (the returns) in my head throughout the whole week, and once I get a feel for it, the job gets easier,” said Ayers, the reigning AAC Special Teams Player of the Year.
Ayers calls himself a natural-born runner. He was a standout at Lancaster High School as both a dual-threat quarterback and point guard.
Last August, head coach Tony Levine and his staff held an audition for newcomers on the team, typically freshmen, to compete for special teams positions. These positions include kickoff, punt and punt return along with kickoff return. Ayers and his speed stood out.
“We definitely saw he had some talent when we put him back there,” Christian said. “We knew he was talented, but we didn’t know how he would respond during a game.”
Ayers was ranked second nationally with 12 returns of 30 yards or longer and was ranked 12th nationally with 27.6 yards per return.
He returned a critical 95-yard kickoff for a touchdown against BYU last season that got the Cougars their first points of the game, setup by key blocks, and his ability to break a tackle and evade defenders.
“I think I’m going to score every time I touch the ball. Once (my teammates and I) are on the same page, it’s hard to stop me. I just try to run fast,” Ayers said.
“The schemes that Coach Levine puts out there fit me well. I was fast when I came in, but this process of preparing in the film room and learning has made me a better athlete.”
Ayers has also proved himself to be a threat at receiver. Levine registered him as one of the inside receivers, but with injuries to some outside receivers, that is where he landed. Ayers recorded 11 catches for 130 yards, including a touchdown at Rutgers.
For a team that scores a lot of points, it’s important that Ayers and the kickoff return unit put the offense in the best field position possible. Levine is confident that Ayers can do just that.
The timing of it is critical. With (Ayers’) fearlessness and terrific vision as well as the 10 guys around him, UH has a chance to have good kickoff return unit.