Connor Allen on Who's Next for Wisconsin's Specialists
When looking at Wisconsin's roster next season, many look at the program needing to replace key pieces at linebacker, at wide receiver, on the offensive line and in the backfield at running back.
Yet UW also needs to replace significant contributors on its special teams units. Gone are Zach Hintze, Anthony Lotti and Connor Allen. Hintze was among the nation's best as a kickoff specialist, drilling 69 of 89 attempts (77.5%) for touchbacks. Of course, he also connected on a school-record 62-yard field goal attempt against Purdue in November.
Lotti has handled punting duties for most of the last four years, while Allen established himself as the holder for UW's field goals and extra point opportunities during that time as well.
When speaking with Allen earlier this week, AllBadgers.com asked who he thinks will step up in the specialists room. He started his response with long snapper Adam Bay, who has played in all 41 games since arriving in Madison for the 2017 season.
Allen believes Bay has taken a lead in the group, and he is also excited to see redshirt senior Josh Bernhagen return from injury.
"He's a good leader in that way," Allen said of Bay. "He'll be snapping of course. Nothing to (redshirt freshman) Peter (Bowden), Peter's been getting great as well, too. He came in as a good snapper to begin with last year. Over the year, he's grown as a snapper and as a person through college and all that, but he's getting better as well."
"It's nice to know when you're leaving that there's guys below you that are going to be able to carry forward the good work and the hard work that you've put in and tried to instill in them as they were young guys, and they're gonna keep working at that."
From the kicking position, Allen mentioned four players. Collin Larsh is now the veteran of that position group as a redshirt junior, and he will look to build off a 2019 campaign that saw him make 12 of 18 field goals. He was also listed as the No. 2 kickoff specialist behind Hintze last season.
"For kicking, obviously they've got Collin and Joe (Stoll) and Blake (Wilcox), and Jack Van Dyke is coming in as a freshman," Allen said, stating after that sentence that he thinks he named all of those on the roster.
"I'm sure Collin will probably be playing this year, just because he's got the most experience, but I wouldn't be surprised if there was a strong battle for that position. Joe's got a very smooth swing. He's a pretty accurate guy. Obviously, he's very young right now, but he has a lot potential I think, and same with Blake, too.
"Then they got Jack coming in. Jack's got a big leg. I've coached him over the past couple years actually (through Kohl's Kicking) and worked with him a bunch, and he's got a lot of potential. So I'm really excited for him to come in here and show what he can do this year and years going forward."
Looking at the spot he held for the last four seasons, Allen believes Conor Schlichting, a fellow walk-on who will be a redshirt junior next year, will take on that holding role.
"I've been kind of coaching him over the last year or two, working with him on holding, and he's definitely a good holder for sure," Allen said. "He'll have no problem with that. He'll be all good there.
"Between him, Bay and whoever's kicking, they just have to find that trust with each other that we had before where you know everything's going to be where it needs to be, when it needs to be, to make everybody else successful. So they'll be good."
As for punting duties, Lotti averaged 39.7 yards per attempt in his time as a Badger from 2016-19, with Allen receiving some work at times as well (most notably in 2018).
Allen mentioned UW has Schlichting in the room, along with transfer punter Andy Vujnovich from Division III Dubuque. As of March when asked about Vujnovich's eligibility and if he is able to play right away, head coach Paul Chryst believes that they are still working through that process.
"Both of them have huge legs, so it's going to be kind of who's more consistent and who the coaches trust the most," Allen said. "Especially for our specialists this year, it's unfortunate that we don't have spring ball because it's such a good time to get those really meaningful reps in with the new guys and the younger guys as well, trying to prove what they can do.
"So especially when you have three guys that played a lot that are leaving that next year, it's you got to be able to replace that and find the groove with the new guys that are gonna be filling those positions. So it'll be interesting to see what happens."