Special teams have always held a special (ha-ha) place in my heart and as always in the CFL, if you don’t have a good crew in your special team’s unit, you’re falling short of the crossbar. The BC Lions were coming off a decent 2019 special teams season where Sergio Castillo made 41 of his 45 field goal attempts (91.1%) and Josh Bartel punted 73 times for 3,108 yards (42.6 AVG).
After finishing 5-13 in the 2019 season, the BC Lions had a tough situation on their hands. After the cancellation of the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Castillo opted out of his contract with the Lions to pursue an NFL opportunity with the New York Jets. The Lions also parted ways with their punter, Bartel, who punted for a league-low 42.6 Yards per Punt.
Entering 2021, the Lions looked to start the season with three kickers on the roster. Punter Stephen Flintoft (UCLA) then signed with the team in January 2020. There were also two additions from the 2021 Global Draft. The first overall pick was used on punter Jake Ford, out of Australia and the Lions double-dipped when they selected Japanese Kicker Takeru Yamasaki in the third round.
The Lions made history in week one when Yamasaki became the first Japanese-born player to score points in the CFL when he nailed a field goal from 43 yards out. Yamasaki did struggle, however, making only four of his eight field-goal attempts (50%) through the first two weeks of the season. His up-and-down start led to him being benched in week three, where the Lions opted to field Jimmy Camacho out of Fresno State, California.
Camacho came flying out of the gate, making 13 of his 14 field goal attempts (85%) through six weeks. He had hit a long of 49 yards and his only miss had come in week eight against the Roughriders when he missed wide right. Unfortunately, that miss may have gotten to him. Camacho would go on to only make one of his next six field-goal attempts through Week 13. This would prove to be the final nail in the coffin and the Lions decided to move on from Camacho. Camacho ended his season making 14 of his 20 field goal attempts (70%).
Next in line would be Nick Vogel (UAB). He had a productive debut in the CFL. He kicked the last three games for BC making all eight of his field-goal attempts with a long of 44 yards. Vogel did, however, have some issues with extra-point attempts, missing three of his nine attempts (66%).
Taken first overall in the 2021 Global Draft, expectations were high for Jake Ford (Australia) to perform well right away. Especially since the Lions were having trouble with Bartel in 2019. Bartel kicked for a league-low 42.6 yards per punt (44.8 is league average). Ford played well during his first two weeks, punting 11 times for 492 yards (44.7 AVG). Unfortunately, due to some visa issues, Ford was forced to return home to Australia after his Week two performance.
So, the stage was set for 26-year-old Stefan Flintoft (UCLA). He came into the league in Week three and played out-of-this-world. In his first game for the Lions, he punted six times for 307 yards (51.2 AVG). After showing that he had the leg to be a true threat as a punter, Flintoft was named the starter for the remainder of the year. This proved to be an amazing decision by the Lions special teams coach, Dan Yanowsky, as Flintoft finished the season as the best punter in the 2021 CFL Season. He closed out the season punting a total of 74 times for 3,537 yards (47.8 AVG).
On February 8th, 2022, the Lions made a splash signing and brought kicker Sean Whyte back home to play in BC.
On February 23rd, 2022, Nick Vogel was drafted by the USFL’s Houston Gamblers and will look to continue his quest to become a starter away from BC.
Whyte and Camacho will welcome Bailey Hale (Louisiana Tech) to the kicking carousel. It’s a no-brainer that Whyte will be the starter come June, but Camacho has shown promise during his stint earlier in the season. I predict Camacho will at least make the practice roster as a backup option for Lions unless he is poached by another team first.
On December 23rd, 2022, Flintoft was signed to an extension, and, like I’ve been saying since Week three, this young star looks to be the Lions’ punter for at least the next year.