The University of Michigan football has always had star players on offense (Tom Brady, Brian Griese and Desmond Howard, to name a few) and defense (Charles Woodson, Larry Foote and Glen Steele, among others). Just about every season, they have one or more players that head for the NFL. On any given Saturday, Michigan's roster could be littered with stars at different positions.
Special teams might be another unit this season that could be given that honor for the Wolverines. And it all starts with the punter.
Zoltan Mesko may have the coolest name in college football.
Even though he may play one of the un-sexiest positions in football—that of the punter—he found his way onto 2009 Playboy Magazine annual preseason College Football All-American Team.
He also is one of the top returning punters in the nation as he was an All-Big Ten member last season and ranked 19th nationally with a 42.95 average per punt.
The fifth-year senior has consistently been regarded as one of the brightest and best punters in college football.
He enters his senior season as arguably the front-runner for the Ray Guy Award given each year to the best punter in the nation. He was a semi-finalist in 2008.
When he takes the field this season, he will have the opportunity to shatter several Michigan records at his position. He needs just four punts and 172 yards to ink his name at the top of Wolverine record books in those categories.
While Mesko clearly has a lot of game experience kicking the ball downfield, Michigan has an inexperienced kicker stepping in to boot kicks through the uprights.
Junior Bryan Wright is expected to assume to role for Michigan in 2009. He is currently competing for the job with many other student athletes.
Wright has not attempted a kick in action, but has served as a kickoff specialist throughout his tenure in Ann Arbor. He has appeared in 17 games and has seen 10 touchbacks occur as a result of his booming kicks. He started all 13 games as the specialist in 2007. He also served as Mesko's back-up in 2008 and could be in the same spot in 2009.
It remains to be seen what kind of accuracy Wright has on held kicks, but if his deep kicks are any indication of the power he possesses, Michigan could find itself with a nice surprise at placekicker.
Sophomore Martavious Odoms was all over the field for U-M in 2008. As a freshman, he led the team in receptions and receiving yards, and also returned punts and kickoffs in Rich Rodriguez's first season.
He most likely will be flying around the field again in 2009, especially on special teams.
He returned a 73-yard punt return for a touchdown against Purdue in 2008, and the Michigan staff will be looking for the same type of big play ability in the upcoming season.
Odoms had 10 punt returns for 126 yards and the one touchdown, and also returned 20 kickoffs for 461 yards in 2008.
Joining Odoms on kickoffs again in 2009 should be fellow sophomore Boubacar Cissoko.
Cissoko, who is also expected to be a starting cornerback, had 20 kick returns for 467 yards in 2008. He had a long return of 53 yards.
Senior running back Carlos Brown is also someone that could be considered for return duties if injuries or inconsistent play plagues the pair of sophomores. Brown, who is considered an important member of the offensive backfield, has the speed and experience necessary to be successful. He led the team in 2007 in return yardage.
Senior wide receiver Greg Mathews also has extensive punt return experience—mainly in 2007—and could also see time returning punts.
At a time—just before the season—where optimism is always at it's highest peak, Michigan is no exception.
And neither is the special teams unit.