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Countdown to Kickoff: Oklahoma State’s most overlooked 11 — special teams

Kicker Matt Ammendola leads the special teams unit.

West Virginia v Oklahoma State Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images

Oklahoma State will kick off its 15th season under head coach Mike Gundy this fall. Cowboys Ride For Free will have a 15-day countdown with one article each day until the Cowboys’ season opener Aug. 30 at Oregon State.

We all remember Tyreek Hill’s punt return(s) to send Bedlam to overtime in 2014. We remember Ben Grogan’s kick to win it. We remember the 23 blocked punts since 2013, which leads the country. We also remember Quinn Sharp’s missed field goal against Iowa State in 2011 that ultimately cost the Cowboys a chance at the BCS National Championship.

Special teams make or break many close games. And even though many of the less talented guys play on the “third phase,” their importance should not be understated. The Cowboys will play in a lot of close games this year, and a blocked kick, punt return or even a pinpoint “golf shot” inside the 5-yard line can swing the whole season.

Last year, head coach Mike Gundy hired M.K Taylor and Patrick Cashmore as special teams analysts, and the unit showed improvement.

Many players make a name for themselves on special teams before promotion to defense or offense. Like Amen Ogbongbemiga, who has seen his role drastically increase on defense after a slew of big plays on special teams last year, which included a blocked punt against Boise State.

Here are some special teams players to watch this year.

Matt Ammendola

It only makes sense to start this list with the senior kicker. Ammendola is OSU’s sixth all-time leading scorer, with a realistic chance to climb up to as high as second, behind Ben Grogan. He had some kicks sail through the uprights that looked like they would be good from 65 yards, and he’s also missed from under 20 yards multiple times. Last year, he missed an extra point and a 41-yarder in a one point loss to Oklahoma. If Ammendola can find his rhythm, he will be of great value in close games.

Tom Hutton

The 29-year-old freshman attended ProKick in Australia, a program that is renowned for pumping out elite punters. He made himself a fan-favorite earlier this month for his bed check joke on Twitter.

His maturity will make him a natural leader on the special teams unit; basically a player coach.

Punt Returners?

From 2008-15, the Cowboys averaged two return touchdowns per year. Tyreek Hill, Justin Gilbert and Dez Bryant were all elite returners during that time. But OSU has not returned a punt or kickoff since Jalen McCleskey’s punt return against Texas Tech in 2015. It feels like the Cowboys haven’t even tried for it since. Last year, Dillon Stoner called several fair catches. If this is to change, Chubba Hubbard could be the return man as he’s the most explosive player. But nothing will change if Gundy doesn’t emphasize the return game. If he doesn’t, this season will consist of nothing more than fair catches again.

Phillip Redwine-Bryant

Some players earn more playing time through their performance on special teams, while others spend their whole career on the unit. Redwine-Bryant is the latter, and he is an expert at his craft. The senior walk-on in 2015 cherishes every snap he gets to play. Last year, he led OSU in special teams tackles, which earned him a scholarship for his senior season. Not only is he great in coverage, but he is an example of the rewards hard work reaps. If everyone on special teams matches his intensity, the Cowboys won’t have to worry about being on the wrong end of a momentous special teams play.

Of course, there’s always someone who emerges on special teams. It’s frequently someone no one would have ever guessed. It’ll be interesting to see who it is this year.