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JSU football: Through one game at least, special teams are an improvement for Gamecocks


Jacksonville State's Alen Karajic put four of his five kickoffs in the end zone.

After a 2019 year marred by trouble in the kicking game, Jacksonville State's special teams proved to be a plus in Saturday's 41-24 loss to Florida State.

While Jacksonville State head coach John Grass acknowledged "there's plenty to improve on" overall from this past weekend's game, at least he could give praise to the guys in the kicking game.

"If you say there was an issue last year, I think you would be correct. If you watched Saturday, I think it was much better," Grass said in a video conference with reporters Tuesday morning.

The video chat was to talk about the Gamecocks heading into Saturday's home game against Mercer, and Grass spoke at length about special teams.

Some of the highlights so far for the kicking game:

—Place-kicker Alen Karajic made all three extra points and a field goal, although it was only 21 yards. Last year, JSU made only four field goals while missing five. The Gamecocks also missed three extra points.

—Karajic kicked off five times for an average of 64.8 yards. Last year, 43.3 yards on kickoffs — a difference of more than 21 yards a possession. Four of Karajic's kicks went into the end zone, although FSU chose to return three of them.

—Preston Knight punted five times for an average of 49.2 yards, with Florida State returning three for a total of 12 yards.

—Maybe most important, the new long-snapper, redshirt-freshman Thomas Peterson, had an uneventful day. He replaced Josh Brady, who graduated after four years of flawless work for the Gamecocks.

"I thought Preston Knight punted the ball really well. Alen kicked the ball extremely well, just kicking the ball in the end zone," he said. "We tried to kick the ball away from there, as we said, but we kicked it 5, 6, 7 yards deep in the end zone, and they're still bringing it out.

"The point-afters and the field goal, I thought he did a good job there. Also, bringing in a new punter, we didn't worry about a punt in four years around here with Brady snapping the ball. I thought Tommy did a good job snapping the ball. He got his first couple in, and then got comfortable there. The punt game, Preston did a good job keeping the ball away from them."

Karajic came out of East Hamilton High school in Ooltewah, Tenn., in this past spring's recruiting class. Considering the struggles with kicking last year, he was a focal point of the class, with Grass not ruling out that he could take over the place-kicking right away.

At 6-foot-5 and 205 pounds, Karajic played soccer and didn't try football until the spring before his senior year.

"He's very green still as a kicker," Grass said. "He works at it really hard. Got a live, strong leg. It's fun to watch him grow into that role."

Grass said assistant coach Owen Kilgore is the one who discovered him.

"Not a lot of people were recruiting him," Grass said. "Didn't have game tape. If you don't have junior, sophomore tape, you don't get recruited these days. We really liked him. Love his family. So, it ended up being an easy recruiting deal. He had several other offers after we offered him, but we managed to hang on to him, and I'm glad we did. Good player and good person."

Knight spent two years at Alabama before transferring. He won the job at the start of last year before losing it. He punted 12 times last year with a 37.9-yard average.

Sports Editor Mark Edwards: 256-235-3570. On Twitter: @MarkSportsStar.