Two of the best make Florida special teams a strength

Florida's Eddy Pineiro boots a 54-yard field goal against Kentucky in last year's game in Gainesville. Pineiro was named to the second team AP Preseason All-America Team on Tuesday. [John Raoux/Associated Press]

One thing is clear about special teams at Florida. The Gators have a punting and kicking combination that’s as good as any in the SEC.

Florida coach Jim McElwain is hopeful that ability will spread to other special team units heading into the 2017 season. McElwain said he expects several new names to contribute on punt and kick return/coverage units.

“That’s not for lack of other players,” McElwain said. “That’s because these guys have stepped up and really want to play and have embraced it and obviously have the ability to make a difference for us, especially on the return units. I’m really excited to see some guys stepping up, some of those freshmen and redshirt freshmen. It’s been fun to see.”

Florida returns two experienced, talented players at its two most important special team skill positions. Senior punt Johnny Townsend was named preseason All-SEC second team after averaging 47.9 yards per punt with 27 punts downed inside the 20-yard line. Junior kicker Eddy Pineiro was named to the preseason All-SEC second team as well, after making 21 of 25 field goal attempts last year and going 11 of 13 on field goals of 40 yards or longer.

McElwain said the unsung hero of the kick teams is long snapper Ryan Farr, who ensures that all the punts and field goals get off with good timing due to his accurate snaps.

Both Townsend and Pineiro boast strong legs, though McElwain said it will be important for both to keep in mind scouting reports during the course of the season.

“There are certain places we need to kick the ball, there are certain guys we can’t kick it to and it isn’t just about seeing how far you can kick it,” McElwain said. “It’s about understanding the game plan and executing the game plan.”

The Gators will be without their best return man, junior Antonio Callaway, for at least the season opener against Michigan due to a disciplinary suspension. Callaway returned a kickoff for a TD last year against Missouri on an on-sides kick attempt. McElwain said he’s excited about the return of receiver Dre Massey, who can handle both punt and kickoff return duties. Senior receiver Brandon Powell is another player with experience returning kickoffs, while sophomore receiver Tyrie Cleveland could see time returning punts and kicks as well. Another wild card in the return game is freshman C.J. Henderson, a cornerback from Columbus High in Miami with blazing speed.

“One of those freshmen that runs really fast,” McElwain said. “And I’m kind of excited about that as well.”

Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or Also check out Brockway’s blog at