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Early returns show Kats' kick teams are something special

Special teams have always been a game-maker for Dennis Greene.

He harps on their importance, spending up to half of a daily Erie Community College football practice working on schemes.

The emphasis has paid off as kickoff and punt return units have come up with the big plays that swing momentum and win games.

The Kats hope those units will continue the trend this week, as they host Morrisville State in their home opener at 1 p.m. Saturday at Jim Ball Stadium.

ECC began the season with a three-game road trip and returned from it 2-1 after playing poorly in a disappointing 30-19 loss to Nassau last Friday.

"It's a test for us in a lot of ways," Greene said. "It's also our first game at home and it will be a bit of a test to get all of that out of the way because our home games have a lot of hoopla. We have Jim Ball cars all over the place. We've got bands and kid days and so much stuff going on. It can be distracting, but we have a great field and amazing fans and that's nice to come home to."

Once the players settle into their home field surroundings, expect big things to happen during those times in the game when possession changes. The Kats have made their mark by emphasizing the importance of special teams. Even when the offense and defense are sputtering or flat, the Kats often come up with an impressive kick return, which changes the complexion of the game.

This season, ECC is averaging 30.3 yards on kickoff returns, but it's the punt game that's most impressive. While gaining an average of 32.6 yards per return, the Kats are holding opponents to just 9.2 yards on punt returns.

"We always work special teams and a lot of people don't understand that. We probably spend more time on special teams than any other program," Green said. "I truly believe that special teams win games. It's as simple as that. The easiest way to beat a team is if a team comes down and scores on you and you come right back with a special teams score, it just takes the air out of them. I love special teams."

While the Kats have just one special teams' touchdown -- a 26-yard blocked punt return by Ricky Jones in the season opener at Lackawanna -- Lowell Robinson has accumulated impressive return stats, setting up the offense with great field position.

Robinson has been an early standout, particularly on special teams. The second-year defensive player from Mt. Vernon, N.Y. actually leads the team in all-purpose yards from his touches on punt and kickoff returns and interceptions.

He is averaging 140.3 yards per game combining those three categories, more than even starting running back Zak Kedron (who is averaging 122 yards a game). He has a 77-yard interception return for a touchdown, a 50-yard punt return and a 61-yard kickoff return.

"Special teams is what gets it going," said Robinson, who will move from free safety to outside linebacker this week to shore up the Kats' pass defense. "A punt return, a kick return -- that changes the complexion of the game. Special teams are really important because you can put points up and you can also save points.

"When I run, I'm running with a lot of confidence. Also I have faith in my players that they're going to go out and do their best. They know what I'm capable of doing so when they go out there, they're going to block for me. It's 50 percent me, 50 percent the team. We're all working hard trying to make something happen."

e-mail: amoritz@buffnews.com

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