FIU quarterback Alex McGough grinned when told he would be asked about Panthers kickers and special teams.
“Gotta love them,” McGough said. “Punters are people, too, right?”
Yes, they are, and the combination of punter Stone Wilson; kicker Jose Borregales, who handles field goals and extra points; and kickoff specialist Sean Young has become a weapon for the Panthers (2-1, 1-0 Conference USA), who will host Charlotte (0-4, 0-0) in a league game Saturday night at 7.
Last week, in a 13-7 win at Rice, Borregales went 2 for 2, converting on field goals of 44 and 37 yards. Young produced two touchbacks, and his other kickoff pinned Rice at their own 15. And Wilson averaged 40.5 yards on four punts, giving up a total of just five return yards.
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“I want to brag on our kickers,” FIU coach Butch Davis said after that collective performance.
One of the secrets to the kickers’ success has been 6-4, 230-pound long snapper Hunter Arbit, a sophomore walk-on.
Arbit delivers about 65 snaps per practice. In the offseason, he shows up at the stadium, by himself, and fires snaps off the goalpost, aiming at the “FIU” sign.
“I try to hit right below the ‘F’ and above the ‘I’,” Arbit said.
He’s been snapping since he was 8 years old, but he still remembers one of his first attempts at Palm Beach Gardens High. He was a sophomore, and he had just gotten called up to varsity when he rolled a snap back to the punter.
Arbit heard about that one — loudly — from his coaches, which is why he is fine with zero publicity. Snapping is the type of job where you usually only get noticed when things go wrong.
“I don’t get much recognition,” Arbit said, “but I’m A-OK with that.”
Wilson, a junior from IMG Academy who also serves as the holder on field goals and extra points, is perhaps the hardest worker among the kickers.
“He’s the leader of our group,” Arbit said
Young, a junior transfer from Miami’s ASA College, has the strongest leg of FIU’s kickers. He said he made a 57-yard field goal in camp this year, and he’s the likely option for FIU if the Panthers want to try a kick longer than 50 yards.
Mostly, though, Young’s job is on kickoffs.
“We work on flipping the field,” he said. “Coach Davis emphasizes special teams, getting hidden yardage.”
Borregales, a redshirt freshman who won three state titles at Miami’s Booker T. Washington, said he didn’t get much field goal work in high school because the Tornadoes were that dominant.
“Extra-point wise, yeah, amazing,” Borregales said.
A native of Venezuela, Borrregales started playing soccer at age four, and he arrived in Miami with his family three years later.
Last year, he suffered a partial ACL tear on his plant leg, costing him three months. He got hurt during a tackling drill, but he did not need surgery.
He proved he was completely healthy last week, especially on his 44-yard field goal. Borregales said that would have been good from 60 yards, judging by how high on the net the ball hit.
Arbit, who rooms with Borregales on the road, was stunned by that kick.
“The night before the game, he wasn’t feeling too good,” Arbit said. “But when he hit that first kick, I was so hyped. When he hit the second one, I thought, ‘Today has to be his day.’
“But I saw him on the sideline, and he said he was just hanging out. I said, ‘OK, you do you, I guess.’ ”
Arbit and the kickers said they have noticed a bit more respect from their teammates this week. But McGough, whose uncle Kelly Goodburn was an NFL and Super Bowl punter, still gives his kickers a hard time.
“I always go up to Jose before each game,” McGough said. “I say, ‘I know you dressed up and look good, but only extra points today. I hope we don’t have to kick field goals.’
“With Stone, I say, ‘You dressed well. But you aren’t needed. Just leave your helmet in here.’
“But I have respect for special teams. They are a huge part of the team.”
Saturday: Charlotte at FIU
Kickoff: 7 p.m.; Riccardo Silva Stadium.
TV/radio: beIN Sports; WAXY 790.
Favorite: FIU by 10.
Records: FIU 2-1 (1-0 C-USA); Charlotte 0-4 (0-0 C-USA).
Series: FIU leads 2-0.
FIU injuries: Out — RB Anthony Jones (knee).
Charlotte injuries: No reported injuries.