Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Syracuse Football Preview: Special Teams

Trebor Pena (2, white) avoids Minnesota tacklers near midfield in the 2022 Bad Boy Mowers Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium.
Trebor Pena (2, white) avoids Minnesota tacklers near midfield in the 2022 Bad Boy Mowers Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium.

As Syracuse football's season opener draws near, WAER Sports will release articles previewing position groups during the summer. A list of published articles can be found at the conclusion of this piece.

Football is a three-dimensional game, but the offensive and defensive portions usually outshine the importance of special teams. That is far from the case for Syracuse football, which posted one of the best special teams units in the country in 2022. First-year special teams coordinator, Bob Ligashesky, oversaw a resurgence in the SU special teams department, which finished third in kickoff return yard average in the FBS and 36th in blocked kicks. Ligashesky spent the year grooming a unit that was a far cry from reaching these ranks in 2021. However, with a full year under his belt in Central New York, head coach Dino Babers and company expect to rejoin the ranks of the best special teams units in the nation once again in 2023. Whether it is a continuation of last season’s dominance in the return game or a cast of new faces competing for the starting kicker position, the Orange have a lot to look forward to this upcoming season.


For the first since the 2018, Syracuse has to start a kicker not named Andre Szmyt. The 2018 Lou Groza Award winner exits as the program's all-time leader in points (454), extra points made (199), and field goals made (85). His 81% field goal rate also ranks second among SU’s all-time kicker rankings. The ‘Cuse’s kicking situation heading into this season is not cut and dry like it was when Szmyt was in the picture. The coaching staff turned to sophomore Brady Denaburg for the scrimmage and here’s how the Florida native performed:

  • 4/9 on FGA
  • 1/3 from 49-yards
  • 1/3 from 46-yards
  • 2/3 from 39-yards

It isn’t clear if the Orange are handing Denaburg the job outright or if Ligashesky and Babers will try others – such as redshirt sophomores Ian Hawkins and James Williams – out at the position as the start of the season inches closer. The one luxury Syracuse has is time. No matter who SU chooses as their week one starter, there is plenty of time left for a candidate to assert themselves as the best option.


The Orange snagged some much-needed reinforcements in the transfer portal after a disappointing season from their punters in 2022. Max Von Marburg, a sophomore from Australia, served as the team’s primary punter last season and finished dead last in the ACC in average yards per punt at 39.83. That’s where Missouri transfer Jack Stonehouse enters the bigger picture. Serving as the Tigers' starter in 2022, the redshirt sophomore averaged 42.41 yards per punt (46th nationally) and pinned 15 of his 46 kicks inside the 20-yard line. Had Stonehouse been with the Orange a season ago, his marks would have easily been the best on the team, so expect him to immediately take over starting punting duties in his first season in the 315. Von Marburg, along with the aforementioned James Williams are expected to battle for backup duties throughout the summer.

Kick Return

It is far more obvious who SU’s primary return man will be in the 2023 campaign than it is for other special teams' positions. Syracuse returns All-ACC contender Trebor Pena. The incoming junior received over 80% of the team’s opportunities and was the only player to take double-digit returns. His kickoff numbers are even more impressive, as the Ocean Township, New Jersey receiver led the ACC in average kickoff return yardage (27.2). Before departing Central New York via the transfer portal, the only other steady return man the Orange rostered in 2022 was Courtney Jackson. Now, Pena’s role with the team stands relatively unchallenged.


Syracuse's special team was at another critical juncture this offseason, with long-time long-snapper Aaron Bolinsky testing the NFL waters. Bolinksy, a now SU graduate, received a mini-camp invite from the Bills earlier this year but left behind an open hole at an indispensable position. In early January, the competition looked pretty bleak; however, the Orange landed Fordham transfer Tom Callahan later that month and he is expected to settle into the starting job just like he did with the Rams. Callahan was recruited as a defensive lineman out of Seton Hall Prep in 2019, but made the jump to long-snapper in 2021. The following year, he appeared in all 12 games of his team’s games. His job appears to be safe, unless one of the other three non-scholarship long-snappers for the ‘Cuse can jump Callahan on the depth chart.

The Syracuse football season begins at 4 p.m. on Saturday, September 2 when SU hosts Colgate. Listen to every Orange football contest on 88.3 FM and

2023 Syracuse Football Preview Articles
Coaching Staff