Kicker Endicott bolsters Badgers' coverage unit
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
MADISON--Ryan Lankford accelerated through a modest gap in Wisconsin’s kickoff-coverage unit and appeared to have an open lane to the sideline.
A second or two later, the Illini’s kick returner was on the ground at the Illinois 22.
His conqueror was bouncing up and down on the field—as if aided by a trampoline—celebrating with his teammates.
The hit man: kicker Andrew Endicott.
“It’s not as hard as it looks when no one blocks you,” said Endicott, who is listed at 5-foot-9 and 166 pounds. “It’s 11 on 11, so if they’re covering the other 10 guys, then it is me and the returner. I intend on winning in that case.
“Even in high school my freshman year I played a little free safety. I was like 5-4 and 130 tops and I’d get run over all the time. So I learned how to take a hit.
“I’m probably the smallest guy out there, but I want to prove you can’t leave me unguarded because I’ll try to make something happen if you do.”
Endicott has become a key member of UW’s kickoff-coverage unit that has grown more stingy as the season has progressed but will be tested this week when the Badgers (6-2) host Brigham Young (6-2) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.
UW is third in the Big Ten with a net average of 41.1 yards. Opponents are averaging 20.4 yards per return overall but only 18.9 yards per return in the four games Endicott has handled kickoffs full time.
“It took some time to get to know the depth,” said UW assistant Bill Busch, who oversees the unit. “We’ve got a lot of really, really highly invested kids.”
BYU’s return unit is equally invested.
The Cougars are fourth nationally at 27.1 yards per return. Their primary return man, sophomore Adam Hine, is No. 3 nationally with a 31.9-yard average.
Endicott replaced Kyle French on kickoffs after Purdue’s Akeem Hunt broke free for a 45-yard return in the Big Ten opener. Since the change, UW hasn’t allowed a return longer than 25 yards.
“It is everyone across the board,” Busch said. “Our timing has been really good, and they understand better what we’re trying to get done.”
Endicott has only four touchbacks on 27 kicks and is averaging just 59.6 yards. However, his average hang-time (about 4.0 seconds) allows sufficient time for the cover men to get down the field.
“Let the guys run and then it comes down to just the attitude of the group,” said senior linebacker Brendan Kelly, who played on the unit in his early years at UW.
Busch lauded the work of reserve linebacker Vince Biegel, reserve linebacker Joe Schobert, reserve wide receiver A.J Jordan and reserve safeties Kyle Zuleger, Leo Musso and Nate Hammon.
“Any time you’ve got a kicker who can go down there and make some plays it is pretty cool,” Biegel, said. “I think teams have to account for him, and that is an advantage for us.
“We have some swagger on that unit. We’re having fun with it. We think we can change the tempo.”
From 2008 through last season, UW allowed a kickoff return of 63 yards or longer in each season. The Badgers surrendered a combined four touchdowns on kickoff returns during that span.
The current unit has been much less forgiving.
Kelly described the attitude he sees this season.
“I’m going to go down there and I’m going to be so physical that these guys don’t want to block me,” he said. “If you’re on kickoff return, you don’t want to block a guy who wants to take your head off. That is the mentality you have to have.
“When you start being passive, the kickoff team can block you. You have to literally think you are unblockable.
“And when your kicker can run down the field and knock someone out, that is pretty impressive.”