Penn State Position Spotlight: Special Teams

The Penn State special teams is still a question mark after Spring practice. Heading into the Summer there are still positions up for grabs.

The Penn State Nittany Lions have had success at special teams the last few seasons. Both starters at kicker, Jake Pinegar, and punter, Barney Amor, finished their Penn State careers at the end of the 2022 season. Pinegar finished his career as a Nittany Lion strong in 2023, only missing four field goals all season. Amor came to Penn State after a strong career at Colgate. He averaged 44.3 yards per punt in 2022 and 16 of those went for more than 50 yards. Both will be hard to replace in 2023, but the future is bright with young talent.

Penn State Special Teams Spotlight

The Kickers

The Nittany Lions currently have two kickers on the roster. Senior transfer Alex Felkins and Redshirt Sophomore Sander Sahaydak. Felkins transferred to Penn State from Columbia after the 2022 season. While at Columbia, Felkins was named first-team All-Ivy League as a kicker. In 2022 the transfer handled both placekicking and kickoff duties for the Lions. His long in 2022 was 53 yards, giving him his second field goal over 50 yards while at Columbia. In addition, he set many season school records for Columbia, including the most touchbacks and most points scored by a placekicker. Felkins will be competing with Sahaydak this Summer for the starting spot in 2023.

Special teams coach, Stacy Collins praised both kickers heading into the 2023 Blue-White Game, stating, “We have Sander [Sahaydak] back and he has done a nice job. Him and [Alex] Felkins have come in and competed every single day,” He added, “They’ve got a heck of a competition going.”

Sahaydak hails from Bethlehem, PA, and saw minimal action for the Nittany Lions during the 2022 season. He shared in kickoff duties last season, appearing in seven games for Penn State. In addition to some kick-off duties, Sahaydak scored his first field goal and an extra point against Rutgers in November. The field goal was from 20 yards out. He may not have as much experience in college as Felkins, however, Sahaydak was the second-ranked kicker in the 2021 recruiting class according to the 247Sports Composite Ranking. He was ready to compete in 2021 and all signs point to him being ready to compete now.

The Punter History

The kicking game for Penn State has been relatively up and down, but the punters are a completely different story. The Penn State special teams have been able to count on a great punter for many years. Let’s start back at current New Orleans Saints punter, Blake Gillikin. Gillikin was the Nittany Lion punter from 2016 to 2019 and during his time at Penn State, he had 53 punts downed inside the opponent’s 10-yard line and became the second Nittany Lion to reach the 10,000 career punt-yard mark. When Gillikin graduated Penn State faithful were concerned, but in came current Baltimore Ravens punter Jordan Stout. Stout picked up right where Gillikin left off, taking over punting duties in 2020. During his time he also became the kicker, where he ranks second in school history with five field goals of 50 yards or more. Finally, Amor finished his collegiate career after the 2022 season and looks to be drafted in the NFL Draft at the end of April.

The 2023 Punters

There are four punters on the Penn State football roster heading into the Summer. First, is the new guy, the senior transfer from Florida Atlantic, Riley Thompson. The Melbourne, Australia native comes to Penn State as the punter with the most collegiate experience. In 2022 for Florida Atlantic, Thompson appeared in all 12 games, averaging 45.4 yards per punt, with a long of 71 yards. In addition, 26 punts landed inside the 20-yard line and he only had three touchbacks. With this resume it sounds like it is his job to lose, however, you can’t count out the young guys.

Collins didn’t just have a lot to say about the kickers leading up to the Blue-White Game, he also had this to say about the young punters, “Punter-wise, it’s been a great competition.”

Gabriel Nwosu and Mitchell Groh are the two redshirt sophomores on the roster. Nwosu’s leg showed its strength in the Blue-White game. The punters were utilized without returners or anyone rushing, which allowed fans and coaches to see the pure leg strength of these punters. Both of these guys have also competed to handle kickoff duties. This is something that Penn State has also used the punter for in recent years. Finally, the group is rounded out by redshirt freshman Alex Bacchetta. Before Thompson appeared on the scene, Bacchetta was the likely candidate to take over from Amor. The Georgia product appeared in two games in 2022, punting four times. He averaged 40 yards per punt and landed three of the four inside the opponent’s 20-yard line.


This will be a fun battle to watch throughout Summer workouts leading up to the Fall. Will the two transfers beat out the young guys? Or will someone that these coaches have molded step up and take their spot? It was tough to find breakaway candidates at the Blue-White Game due to the format that kickers and punters utilized. But one thing rings true, all of these guys have an upside. However, consistency is key and it will likely come down to whoever is most consistent throughout Summer camp.


Photo courtesy: Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports