Claybourn, Veals lead unit

Wes Watt

For the first time in three years, Western will have a new place kicker. Many fans felt comfortable the last three years because Peter Martinez was almost automatic when lining up the goal posts.

Now they may be squirming.

Martinez, who scored 103 points and missed just two tries over 40 yards last season will be hard to replace.

Senior Matt Lange – who is 1-for-1 in in extra point attempts in his three-year career – has been chosen to replace Martinez as Western’s placekicker.

“He’s been a pleasant surprise here in camp,” coach David Elson said. “I like the way he handles the pressure. I feel totally confident with Matt in any situation.”

Lange said the best thing to do is to treat every situation the same. No matter if it’s an extra point or a 45 yard potential game-winner.

“It’s just another kick,” Lange said. “You got to think of it that way.”

But Lange didn’t get the job by default. First he had to beat out senior Wilson Wickerham.

“We’ve just looked at all the numbers through out preseason camp,” Elson said. “Matt has just been more consistent.”

But Elson said if Western needs to make a long field goal, he’ll go with punter Brian Claybourn. Claybourn, who was an all-Gateway Conference honorable mention last season, will be the man called up for anything over 45 yards.

“If it is an end of the half situation where we think we can get a 52 yarder or something like that, we will go with Claybourn for a real long one,” Elson said. “But other than that, it’s Matt Lange.”

Claybourn averaged 39.8 yards per punt last season. And 19 kicks trapped opponents inside the 20 yard line. But Claybourn said he is still working to get better.

“Consistency,” he said. “I need to be more consistent.”

Claybourn will play a major factor in field position because of his ability to pin opponents within the shadow of the goal line.

“He is critical,” Elson said. “He adds value to our overall team and ability. We need to take advantage of his talent.”

Another talented member of the unit is return specialist Antonio Veals. Veals has already garnered all-conference honorable mention after averaging 14.7 yards per punt last season. Veals also scored an 86-yard touchdown on a punt return in the first round playoff win over Murray State in 2002.

“I am excited about what he can do at kick return,” Elson said. “He has great years ahead of him.”

Veals said he has worked harder to prepare for this season because he knows special teams coaches will have their eye on him this time around.

“I like to think I improved a lot,” Veals said “I have to go have the best game I can.”

Claybourn will also kick off for the Toppers and is a key cog in what could be a talented special teams unit. And it’s not just when Western is giving the ball away.

The return units in 2002 gave up just 16.4 yards per kick off return and less than 10 yards per punt.

Reach Wes Watt at [email protected]