Despite its namesake, many fans of football overlook the value and importance that is a special team’s unit. However, for the Bearkats and their championship run, the special team’s unit was a pivotal component to making this dream a reality; especially in the last two games of their postseason run.
One of those many players that made a huge impact on special teams is sophomore Ryan Humphries, who is currently the Bearkats holder.
Humphries arrived to Sam Houston in 2018 at the beginning of the programs rebuild after the loss to the North Dakota State University Bison the year prior and has seen how the team has come around to being a national championship-winning program.
“The biggest difference in now and when I got here in 2018 wasn’t the talent, but more so the chemistry that we have for each other,” Humphries said. “You have a lot of people in one locker room that really want to win football games. And not only that but people that want to see their teammates do well.”
Since coming to Sam Houston, Humphries has played all over the field but has really found his groove being one of the leaders on the special team’s unit, including winning the Frederick Award, which is given to the top holder in the FCS.
“I’ve played quarterback, played wide receiver but with this holding deal, it is kind of my baby,” Humphries said. “I love it. Special teams is special to me. I’m all over the field with special teams so I’ve kind of made it my thing. I don’t know if I can win the award twice, but I will definitely be going after number two.”
In doing so, Humphries has become a true fan favorite not only through his play and passion but also his crew, which has been dubbed “The Legion of Smooth.”
“Noah Caldwell is the snapper, Seth Morgan is the kicker and I’m the holder,” Humphries said. “Last year I was given the reigns of holder and I just decided I was going to make it as fun as possible… The three of us just kind of came up with that and kind of just vowed to be as smooth as possible all year.”
In preparation for the season, they all knew that they wanted to leave their mark and make sure to be one of the best special team’s units in the entire country.
“It’s a lot of hard work,” Humphries said. “I think the cool part about it is that it is a three-man operation. I think we all had confidence in each other before the season started. We put a lot of work in at night snapping, kicking with each other and I think that translated to the field.”
With special teams, many people do not understand the kind of hard work and detail that must be done, as there is so much more to it than just snapping a football, holding it and then kicking it.
“I want people to know that what he [Morgan] is doing is really hard,” Humphries said. “It is not easy to go out there and kick. And with that, it is not easy holding either. It is not just catching it and placing it as there is so much more to it. And it is not easy snapping it either. He [Caldwell] works really hard.”
Going into the season, neither junior long snapper Noah Caldwell, transfer from Southeastern Oklahoma State University after the 2017 season, nor freshman kicker Seth Morgan had seen a snap of Division-I football.
“He [Morgan] is actually a walk-on true freshman,” Humphries said. “He won the job last fall and I could see that he was super talented… people saw the kicking game really changed a lot this year. I expect him to be an All-American throughout the rest of his college career.”
Morgan did not disappoint in his freshman season as he was a first-team All-Southland Conference player as well as being named to the Freshman All-American team. Along with these awards, Morgan kept his vow to stay as smooth as possible no matter how big the moment was.
“In the national championship game, we won by two and looking back at it the career long 45-yard field goal for Seth Morgan is a really big play,” Humphries said. “The conditions were awful and that was probably the most nervous I have ever been holding because of how raining and muddy and wet it was.”
During the national championship game, the weather was not football friendly as the rain came down all day before and leading into the game setting up for very poor conditions. But for the Legion of Smooth, it was no problem.
“A funny thing about that specific kick was that we actually had 10 men on the field till about eight or nine seconds on the play clock,” Humphries said. “I’m yelling at everyone to get set and Seth actually didn’t even get to take his normal steps. He kind of just gauged it, stepped back and then knocked down the biggest kick of his life.”
Not only did Morgan come up big in the playoffs with this career-long field goal, Humphries was also on the tail end of one of the biggest plays of the postseason.
During the historic comeback the Bearkats had against the James Madison University Dukes, Humphries recovered a fumble on a kickoff with Sam Houston only trailing by three points after being down 24-3 going into halftime. This recovery would eventually set up the touchdown, which would give the Bearkats their first lead of the game since early in the first quarter.
“It goes back to what I said about playing for each other and having that chemistry,” Humphries said. “We understood we couldn’t get 21 back in one play. We had to claw back and do it piece by piece. When the wheels got turning in the third quarter, I think I just made the next play when the opportunity presented itself.”
This was not the first time this season that Humphries had a big fumble recovery on a kickoff during a game. Earlier in the season, he recovered a fumble on a kickoff against Nicholls State University.
“Really looking back, that is crazy cause if you did that twice in your career, that would be awesome,” Humphries said. “Twice in one season and one down by three points in the national semifinals is pretty special. At the time I didn’t really realize the significance of the play but afterwards I was listening to Rob Hipp, one of the radio guys for Sam Houston sports, and given the circumstances and when it happened that it would go down as one of the biggest plays in Sam Houston history. And just to hear that attached to my name is pretty special.”
With the successful championship run now over, the Legion of Smooth is looking forward to next season and their journey in trying to defend their national championship crown.
“I know that one thing is a fact and that is you can’t win two national championships unless you win one,” Humphries said. “So, we are going to enjoy that one until it is time to start working towards number two.”