As we countdown to kickoff in September, we’re going to be doing a unit-by-unit preview each week over the summer. This week, we’re taking a look at special teams, which will need to replace the best punter in school history.
- Sean Riley: Riley left Syracuse as one of its most productive players, having appeared in all 49 games from 2016-19. He compiled 4,358 all-purpose yards during that time, and made a big impact as a four-year starter as the team’s primary kickoff return man. He set Syracuse records for most career kickoff returns (115) and kickoff return yards (2,433).
- Sterling Hofrichter: Like Riley, Hofrichter appeared in all 49 games during the same time period as SU’s starting punter. As a senior, he was a finalist for the Ray Guy Award and was named a First-Team All ACC Selection and a Third-Team All American from the Associated Press. Hofrichter left SU as perhaps its best punter in school history, and was drafted by the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons.
- Andre Szmyt (K): A year after being the first SU player to win the Lou Groza Award as the nation’s top kicker, Szmyt didn’t have as many opportunities in his sophomore year, hitting 17 of 20 field goals and missing one of his 40 PAT attempts. Still, he was named to the All-ACC Third Team and hit eight consecutive field goals to end the season. He was a 2020 All-ACC pick by Athlon, Lindy’s and Phil Steele (all picked him for the second team).
- James Williams (P): Williams will likely slot into Hofrichter’s role as the starting punter as a freshman. He was rated the No. 4 punter in the 2020 class by Kohl’s Kicking with a five-star rating.
- Aaron Bolinsky (LS): Bolinsky has started 19 games at long snapper in two seasons. He’s also recorded four tackles during that time.
- Nolan Cooney (Holder): Cooney is also a reserve punter and placekicker. The redshirt senior has been SU’s holder for the last two seasons.
- Nykeim Johnson (KR): Johnson is potentially due for a big season as a wide receiver, and will also handle kick returning duties. In his career, he’s returned 11 kickoffs for 217 yards (19.7 avg.) and two punts for eight yards (4.0). He’s listed atop the depth chart as the team’s top kick returner and backup punt returner.
- Jawhar Jordan (KR): Syracuse has high hopes for the speedy Jordan as a running back, and he’s also listed with Johnson atop the depth chart at KR. In his redshirt season, he returned four kickoffs for 114 yards (28.5 avg.). Markenzy Pierre also has experience and may fill in this role as well.
- Trill Williams (PR): Williams will be an important part of SU’s new 3-3-5 defense, and will also take over for Riley as the team’s starting punt returner. He had some experience with this in high school, but hasn’t appeared in this role at the college level yet.
The biggest question will be if Williams can give Syracuse similar production to the departed Hofrichter. It’s a lot to ask a true freshman to try to fill the void of one of the best punters in school history, but Williams should be the starter out of camp unless Cooney, a redshirt senior, gives Williams a full year to learn on the job.
While the loss of Sean Riley will also be felt, Syracuse has plenty of talented athletes that can return kicks, and Jordan has drawn rave reviews from the coaching staff for his sheer foot speed.
The other question will be if Syracuse can use Szmyt like they did in his freshman year. He attempted 14 less field goals in his sophomore year, and that’s why he had a drop in production. If Syracuse’s offense recovers from a down year, Szmyt should continue to be effective.