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Mutka: VU punter Greg Wood getting pro attention

Valparaiso's Ben Boggs (right) drives around Bethune-Cookman's Malik Jacksfirst half Valparaiso University Valparaiso Ind. Saturday November 24 2012.  |

Valparaiso's Ben Boggs (right) drives around Bethune-Cookman's Malik Jackson in the first half at Valparaiso University in Valparaiso, Ind. Saturday November 24, 2012. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 25, 2012 11:36PM



Not being a guy who squirrels himself in the “Man Cave” on weekends, constantly exercising my thumb on the remote, I might not be qualified to make outrageous statements about college football players. But I’m going to anyway, so sue me.

Valparaiso University’s Greg Wood proves that you don’t have to play for a powerhouse to attract the attention of NFL bird dogs.

Having watched him perform at Brown Field on a regular basis over the last two years, I can say with a clear conscience that he’s the best small-college punter I’ve ever seen.

Of course, Wood has had plenty of practice. Playing for a team which has posted a 2-20 record in that time guaranteed him plenty of work. He took advantage of 69 opportunities in 11 games to lead the Pioneer Football League with a 40.9-yard average. Crunching numbers can be overrated or misleading, but coach Dale Carlson understands his value.

“A punter’s average doesn’t always tell the story,” he said. “Greg’s ability to place the ball and kick it high into a specific area so we can cover better has been just tremendous.”

Let’s talk about altitude. I don’t take a stopwatch to games, but some of his punts would have developed frost bite in colder weather. A few of them disappeared in the stratosphere and were never seen again. Fifteen of them induced fair catches.

Now about placement ... Against Drake, which shared the PFL title with Butler, Wood had punts downed on the three- and one-yard lines. On a 40-yarder, Drake’s attempted return netted zero yards, starting from the 15.

In an overtime loss to Davidson, he punted eight times, including back-to-back boots of 64 and 63 yards. Five times, Davidson was forced to start a possession inside its 20.

Against Morehead State, Wood proved that less can be more. Four of his punts traveled 37 yards or less, but parachuted inside the 20. None were returned. His best kick in that season-ending loss was a 50-yarder, which was downed on the four.

No wonder Carlson calls him “one of the better kickers in the country.”

Despite VU’s mostly miserable season, the senior from Libertyville, Ill. has been checked out. Maybe it’s because he averaged 53 yards for three punts in a road victory at Campbell, once pinning the Camels inside the two.

“We’ve had a number of scouts come in and watch him on video tapes,” Carlson said.

That doesn’t mean you’ll see No. 88 wearing a Bears’ uniform next year.

“It’s like a marathon,” said Carlson, acknowledging the long odds. “You might get lucky, maybe get called in mid-week by a team wanting to put pressure on their punter. It could take two or three years before you get your shot. You have to be patient, be willing to do those things. We’ve talked about it and Greg knows how the system works.”

Progress being made: Going 1-and-10 is not my idea of progress, but the Crusaders are still football infants. Sixteen freshmen (including seven redshirts) and 19 sophomores (eight redshirts) were listed in the two-deeps in their last home game.

There were some positives to keep Carlson from developing an ulcer after lopsided losses to Dayton, Marist and Morehead State:

Jake Hutson, VU’s best downhill running back since Ross Wiemer, averaged 99-plus yards rushing over the last six games. The tireless redshirt sophomore also caught 35 passes, returned kickoffs and punts to amass 1,216 all-purpose yards. He ranked fourth in the PFL in that category and rushing (753 yards).

Alex Grask, among a handful of contributing juniors, led the PFL with 68 solo tackles. The alert safety from Naperville, Ill. also recovered three fumbles, returning one for 74 yards. He was VU’s leading tackler in eight of 11 games, a stat usually dominated by linebackers.

Freshman tackle John Guilford was eighth in the league in total tackles with 6.5 for losses and three sacks.

Linebacker Pat Derbak, another hard-hitting junior, was credited with 37 solos.

Wide receiver Fred Gladney led VU with 42 catches, mostly nickle and dime stuff.

So why 1-and-10? The Crusaders were outscored 334-84 in the first half. Playing from behind is not recommended for a coach seeking a long shelf life, but athletic director Mark LaBarbera believes the Crusaders are headed in the right direction against a schedule which no longer welcomes Division III pushovers.

Carlson suggests an upgraded schedule invites better recruits.

“We wouldn’t have signed some of the players we did if we still played D-III teams,” he said.

Valparaiso’s objective is to field a lineup heavily fortified with fifth-year seniors. Drake used that pattern to share the PFL title, an honor once reserved for Dayton or San Diego. It’s coming slowly. In Valparaiso’s home finale wide receiver Tim Bennett, and inside backers Chris Howard and Cody Gokan were the only fifth-year starters.

Recipe for success? Chemistry doesn’t seem to be a problem for the basketball Crusaders who have seamlessly blended these seven transfers into their program: Will Bogan (Mississippi), LaVonte Dority (South Florida), Bobby Capobianco (Indiana), Alex Rossi (California), Ben Boggs (Virginia Tech), David Chadwick (Rice) and Jordan Coleman (Hawaii, Southwestern Illinois).

Bogan and Boggs have started every game while Capobianco and Coleman received double-figure minutes Saturday. To that VU blends a little international flavor in scoring leaders Ryan Broekhoff (Australia) and Kevin Van Wijk (Netherlands), plus reserve Vashil Fernandez (Jamaica).

Not much Hoosier Hysteria here except for the 5-1 record and Matt Kenney, a hybrid guard from Mooresville who doesn’t start but ranks fourth in minutes played. Next year he’ll be gone, but incoming Nick Davidson (Andrean) will maintain a state presence.



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