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OwlBytes: 2024 FAU Spring Practice April 9th - Return Specialists and Notes

The final week of Spring Practice began this Tuesday morning at the practice fields of the Schmidt Complex with the team waiting in anticipation for the Spring Game at Howard Schnellenberger Field this upcoming Saturday. For today, we will look at the return specialists to conclude our observation at special teams.

There were significant departures from the group in Lajohntay Wester and Je'Quan Burton. Transferring to Colorado, Wester commanded 14 of FAU's 15 punt returns for 278 yards and a touchdown, winning the AAC's Special Teams Player of the Year by season's end. Burton also left after maximizing his collegiate eligibility, receiving 10 of the Owls' 24 kickoffs for a total of 190 yards.

Below is a quick glance at the makeup of the position for the Spring.

Key Returners: Omari Hayes (R-Soph. 5-9, 165), Jayshon Platt (Jr. 6-1, 195), Xavier Terrell (R-Fr. 5-8, 175), Kahlil Brantley (R-Jr. 6-2, 225), Wyatt Sullivan (R-Soph. 6-4, 235), Michael Johnson Jr. (R-Sr. 6-3, 210)

Key Losses: Lajohntay Wester, Je'Quan Burton, Kobe Lewis, Javion Posey, Jymetre Hester

Newcomers: Milan Tucker (Transfer/App State), Wendol Philord Jr. (Transfer/Keiser), Kaden Shields-Dutton (Recruit/Edgewater)

Here is the 10th of our parliament Owl position previews, beginning with two names from the returning specialists, and some notes from today's media availability.

Turning The Wheels

  • Expected to Lead Milan Tucker: Despite the limited number of kick return practices this spring, head coach Tom Herman identified Tucker (pictured top via Rick Henderson) as an early contender for the starting spot while vying for punt returner as well. Tucker, who transferred from Appalachian State, emerges as the frontrunner due to his impressive track record. In 53 games with the Mountaineers, he amassed 1,316 yards on 52 kick returns, ranking seventh in program history. His standout performance includes a memorable 96-yard touchdown against Marshall in 2022, earning him recognition as a second-team All-American kick returner by the Football Writers Association of America. With his exceptional speed and ability to navigate past defenders, which he has displayed throughout this spring, Tucker presents himself as a compelling option for the Owls' special teams unit.

  • Expected to Lead 2.0 Wendol Philord: Like Tucker, Philord is also poised to compete for the starting roles of receiving kickoffs or punts, showcasing his commitment to special teams. Despite excelling as a defender in the secondary throughout his four-year tenure at Keiser, Philord has demonstrated a strong presence in special teams play. With 1,428 yards and a touchdown on 48 kick return attempts, as well as 399 yards and three touchdowns on 27 punt return attempts, he has proven himself as a dynamic returner. Philord's exceptional performance even earned him the title of Special Teams Player of the Year in the Sun Conference in 2023. Whether he splits returning duties with Tucker for kicks or punts, Herman and special teams coordinator Chad Lunsford's recognition of Philord's remarkable talent possibly ensures he would see plenty of action and maintain high productivity.

  • Keep An Eye On Jayshon Platt: He could see an increase in kick return opportunities heading into the fall season. Despite leading the team in kickoff returns in 2022, Platt (pictured above via Rick Henderson) had a limited role last season behind Je'Quan Burton and Kobe Lewis. In 2023, his sole kickoff return came against Charlotte, where he gained 29 yards during the victory over the 49ers. Head coach Tom Herman has commended Platt for his performance during spring camp, noting his ability to make the most of his opportunities despite limited playing time last season. With the depth chart changing due to the departures of Burton and Lewis, Platt has a chance to expand his role by showcasing his skills during the team's kickoff drills.

  • Keep An Eye On 2.0 Kaden Shields-Dutton: Herman has identified newcomer Kaden Shields-Dutton as another potential candidate for kick returns. Hailing from Edgewater High School, the freshman running back showcased his talent by appearing in 11 games during his senior year. With 138 carries and an impressive 768 yards, averaging 5.6 yards per carry, Shields-Dutton emerged as a key player, scoring 15 touchdowns in the process. Noteworthy is Shields-Dutton's physical build, standing at 5-feet-11 and weighing 215 pounds. Herman sees potential in utilizing his unique body type, along with other players, for kickoffs during specific situations in regular-season games.

OwlBytes for April 9th

  • From NAIA To D1 Football Last season proved to be remarkable for Philord (pictured below). Recording 54 tackles, including 40 solo tackles and 12 tackles for loss, he also secured three interceptions and fumble recoveries each, contributing significantly to Keiser's impressive 12-2 record, including an undefeated 7-0 performance in the Sun Conference. This outstanding performance culminated in a historic victory over top-ranked Northwestern College (Iowa), securing Keiser's first-ever NAIA Championship with a 31-21 triumph. Reflecting on the team's success and how he wants to carry that success over to FAU, Philord remarked, "I know what it takes to win, and I feel like this team has what it takes… there's a different air around here, everybody wants to win. Everybody's talking about conference championships and bowl games, so I like to think this is a different team from last year even though I wasn't here."

  • Versatility Galore Both Tucker and Philord have one thing in common: they are versatile in their skillsets they display out on the field. Tucker can play a primary receiver while being one of the main kick returners. "The more components you are able to play on the field, it definitely helps you learn the game even more inside and out, and it also helps the coaches help you see what they are trying to get done on the field," Tucker said. As for Philord, he can have an important role in the secondary and assume responsibilities as an effective returner for punts and kickoffs. "Wherever coach need me, I wish it would be punt return, that's why I'm putting in the play to show that I'm willing to do whatever he needs me to do to make the team better," Philord said.

Video Play

Head coach Tom Herman, wide receivers Milan Tucker and BJ Alexander, and defensive back Wendol Philord headline today's video play.

The team will rest on Wednesday before returning to the field Thursday morning for their last practice before the Spring Game on Saturday.

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