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Michigan State Football 2021 Positional Preview: Special Teams

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 04 Penn State at Michigan State

The 2021 college football regular season started this past Saturday, but for the Michigan State Spartans, the 2021 campaign officially kicks off against the Northwestern Wildcats on Friday, Sept. 3. With that said, The Only Colors wraps up the break down of each positional group on MSU’s roster with special teams.

The group features some long time stalwarts on the roster and a few freshmen and newcomers as well. Special teams play is more often than not a position of strength for the Spartans over the past several decades, and ideally 2021 will see the same with the bevy of long term starters in key roles.

With that, let’s break it down.

Projected Starters/Contributors:

Matt Coghlin, placekicker/kickoff specialist, graduate student

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 27 Pinstripe Bowl - Michigan State v Wake Forest Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Coghlin, now as a graduate student, should continue to be a reliable stalwart at the position in 2021. The kicker — who came out of Archbishop Moeller in Cincinnati, Ohio in 2016 — has played in 45 career games after redshirting as a freshman in the fall 2016 season. Coghlin has a number of accolades to his name, including All-Big Ten honors four times in his career (2018: first team; 2017, and 2019 and 2020, honorable mention), is a four-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree, received Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week honors three times in his career (vs. Penn State in 2017, vs. Indiana in 2018, vs. Northwestern in 2020), has hit four game-winning field goals, and has 21 career field goals of more than 40 yards.

Coghlin is a program leader or sits near the top of the school record books in multiple categories. He is tied for first in point-after-touchdown (PAT) percentage (100.0 percent, 107-107) and is one of just eight Spartan placekickers to score at least 100 PATs. He became just the fifth Spartan with 300 points, doing so against Penn State in the season finale last year on Dec. 12, 2020. He also set a school record with 18-straight made field goals (Nov. 4, 2017 to Oct. 27, 2018).

Coghlin made nine-of-12 field goal attempts last season, and was 13-for-13 on extra points. He also hit a career-long 51-yarder in the third quarter at Michigan last season. Coghlin is a serious threat and reliable scorer for the Spartans on special teams. With a squad as untested as this one, some of those tossup games will really rely heavily on Coghlin getting needed points from not so close-in shots at the uprights to ensure bowl eligibility. Having him return for an extra year of eligibility could prove pivotal for this team’s season hopes.

Bryce Baringer, punter/holder, redshirt senior

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 14 Indiana at Michigan State Photo by Steven King/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Baringer, a native of Waterford, Michigan, has had quite the college journey thus far. The redshirt senior started his career at Illinois as a walk-on who redshirted in the 2017 season. He transferred to Michigan State that spring and was called into duty in the fall of 2018 after first Jake Hartbarger, and then Tyler Hunt, both went down with season-ending injuries. Baringer left the team for the 2019 season but returned in 2020.

Baringer, listed at 6-foot-3 and 210-pounds, has 52 career punts for the Spartans for a total of 2,099 yards (40.4 yards per punt). He also has 14 punts of over 50 yards, hitting 13 inside the 20. He sits at No. 24 on the list of career punts at MSU and is also No. 24 on career punt yards. Last season he also led the Big Ten with 12 punts of 50-plus yards, and had a career long of 78 yards against Michigan, the sixth-longest in school history. If nothing else, Baringer should offer a steady foot at the position. With a more reliable coverage, the phrase “punting is winning” may ring true once again for the Spartans in the ever-vital Big Ten game of field position.

Baringer recently received a scholarship from MSU, according to his Twitter account:

Hank Pepper, long snapper, true freshman

Pepper, a true freshman from Chandler, Arizona, joins the Spartans 2021 class as a December 2020 signee. Listed at 6-foot-2 and 205-pounds, Pepper is one of the top signees by his position in the class, if not the Big Ten, per 247Sports. Pepper was rated as the No. 1 long snapper by the recruiting service, and as a five-star long snapper and the second best in the country by

Pepper played linebacker in high school as well, playing at Chandler High School, and was named the Defensive Player of the Year in the 6A Conference Premier Region in his senior year. He helped the team go on to an undefeated 10-0 record and fifth-consecutive state championship, while recording 108 tackles in 10 games, including eight tackles for loss, three sacks, three forced fumbles, three pass breakups and one fumble recovery.

Others on Roster:

  • Evan Johnson, kicker, redshirt junior, 5-foot-11, 215 points, Hope College, Holt High School (Okemos, Michigan)
  • Stephen Rusnak, kicker, freshman, 6-foot-1, 170 pounds, Clarkston High School (Clarkston, Michigan)
  • Cody Waddell, punter, graduate transfer, 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, Lincoln University, Texas Tech, Northeast High School (Elkton, Maryland)
  • Michael Donovan, long snapper, freshman, 6-foot-3, 230 pounds, Seaholm High School (Beverly Hills, Michigan)


  • Donovan also joined the 2021 class as a long snapper signee, being rated the No. 39 at the position in his class by Rubio Long Snapping and the No. 1 in the state of Michigan. Donovan also played offensive and defensive tackle in high school for Seaholm High School.
  • Waddell started out in the JUCO ranks where he had a career 111 punts before moving onto Texas Tech. He graduated after three seasons as a walk-on with the Red Raiders, playing primarily as a backup.
  • Johnson played for Hope College in 2018 (making six of his seven field goal attempts there), but has been an MSU student since 2019. He walked-on to the team this fall.
  • Rusnak is a true freshman walk-on from Clarkson High School. He totaled 43 points as a senior, and had 96 percent of his kickoffs go for touchbacks.