Chopping It Up With Special Teams Coordinator Scott Fountain
By Hank Layton
SPECIAL TEAMS PREVIEW
This fall, Scott Fountain will be entering his fourth season as special teams coordinator and assistant head coach for the Arkansas Razorbacks. In early May, while on the recruiting trail around Arkansas with trips to Texas and Florida on his schedule, Fountain hopped on the phone with multimedia journalist Hank Layton for a Q&A to discuss all things special teams. Hawgs Illustrated: There are a lot of new coaches on the staff this year, which makes you kind of the veteran coordinator on the sidelines. What’s that been like for you? Scott Fountain: You know, things have been good. The beauty of who we hired, I worked with Travis Williams at Auburn for a few years, probably three or four years. Marcus Woodson, I never worked with him, but I knew Marcus through Auburn and when I was at Georgia and playing Auburn, and then of course when we came over here. But everybody else who was hired I can’t say I had a real connection with them before they came, so it’s been good to have some new guys, some new blood come in. It’s been fun and we’re growing. Hawgs: What were your biggest takeaways from the red/white spring game? Fountain: You know, I think the big thing we wanted to accomplish, I believe we covered three kickoffs that day and that was kind of our last day to do it. And we had an opportunity to cover three punts, if I remember right, that were more of a rush look. So, it just really gave me another day to evaluate. And what I tried to do in that last scrimmage, I might hold a guy here or there that I had full confidence in, and then really try to focus on new guys, our transfer guys, our freshmen that had just come in in January. And then, of course, guys that are HA WGS Illu strated • June 2023 kind of going into their red-shirt freshman year or sophomore year, that’s really where I tried to put my focus so I could try and make some decisions going into the fall camp on who we felt like could help us on teams. Hawgs: Can you delve into that a little more? Where are the tightest position competitions you’re expecting once fall arrives? Fountain: Well, I think for sure at kick returner and punt returner, that’s going to be a real competition. Now, at punt returner with Bryce Stephens, I’m very pleased with what he did last year. But I do think we have some quality guys there like Isaiah Sategna, who is really a guy last year that I liked, but we were just trying to save his year. So, those two guys, I think, are in a big heat. And I like the Jaylon Braxton kid that just came in, as well, as a freshman. I think those are all guys that can compete and give us a good opportunity back there. I believe in the return game. I think it’s a big deal. And then kickoff return, we have AJ (Green) back, but we also feel like, again, you’ve got Isaiah Sategna there that’s really created some real competition, and he did this spring. We also took Bryce Stephens there, and I wasn’t sure how he would do back there but we worked him into K.O.R. and he had several good reps in our live situations. And of course we have Rashod Dubinion, who I call “Dub” and has done some good things. And then, when you look outside the return game, you just have a lot of battles going on. And really all we’re doing is trying to put those pieces together. Hawgs: One piece you don’t have to worry about too much is kicker Cam Little. He still hasn’t missed an extra point in his career. He’s made 82% of his field goals. And, as a model of consistency, his two longest field goals are 51 yards, making one of those in each of his first two seasons. How has Little grown as a kicker, and what are you expecting out of him in his third year? Fountain: With Cam, I really feel like we’ve got a guy that is special. My whole deal has always been, not just with Cam but with all your field goal guys, you want a guy that can come in and can be at 80% for you. That’s really what we strive for. Last year with Cam, I thought it was a really big deal at the A&M game, we lost on that field goal toward the end of the game. And that doesn’t come down to kickers; it’s really a team thing. But Cam could have taken that one of two ways. And what I really appreciated about Cam was, man, he just came right back and started making field goals. And that’s the sign of a really mature kid. That’s really what you want. What I told him is, if we can be over 80%, you’re winning for us. But if we can hit 90%, then we’re talking about he could be a Lou Groza guy, or at least be in the conversation for that. I’m really pleased with where he’s at. And he’s also had a good spring with kickoffs. So, it’s going to be interesting to see how that plays out, because in his first two seasons he’s just been a field goal guy that backed up our kickoff guy. But I really like the way his leg has gotten stronger. Probably the biggest, most impressive thing this spring was, I believe he was 3-for-4 on field goals that were over 50 yards. That was big. And that’s an area he had struggled in a little bit. Last year, I think he was 2-for-3 and this spring 3-for-4, and then of course in the spring game he had a 58-yarder. Hawgs: And as everybody knows, with kickers, so much of it is that mental game. To what do you attribute Little’s ability to overcome that mental hurdle of not letting missed field goals get to him? What is it about Cam that he’s able to put that behind him and just go onto the next one? Fountain: My nature is to get upset about it. But I really felt like it was such an important moment. So, I just went up and hugged him on the sideline and he was as down and out as they come, like any kicker would be at that point. His mom and dad went into a little room after the game, and I went in and hugged his mom and dad and I said, “We love Cam. He’s going to have a great career here. Let’s just keep playing ball and put this behind us.” And I think those things certainly help, as opposed to going the other direction with it. But the other part of it is just Cam Little’s mental makeup, the way his mom and dad raised him. He’s just a really mentally strong kid. Anytime he has a miss, he has that nextplay mentality. That’s not easy to create in a kid’s mind. With some kids it would ruin their season or ruin their career. But with him, man, he didn’t skip a beat and got right back in the fold where you like him to be. Hawgs: What about your punters? You’ve got the Aussie, Max Fletcher, who averaged about 38 yards per punt his freshman season, at the top of the depth chart, followed by a couple of newcomers. What are the expectations for the punter position this year? Fountain: We’ve had some really good competition this spring. I really like where Max is at. I think he’s been our more consistent punter. And we’ve had a kid named Devin Bale that’s transferred in and competed very well. And Owen Lawson is a transfer, as well. But this spring it’s been Devin and Max who have really competed very well. But a couple of things about Max. When I was at Georgia, I had a kid named Jake Camarda. Jake’s with Tampa Bay now. He’s a really good punter, very talented kid. His freshman year at Georgia, he had some tremendous balls but also some shanks and balls that made you say, “That’s just not him.” And then he came back his sophomore year and he was just a completely different guy. And that’s where I expect Max to be. I’m really excited about the completion there, because I think competition is what makes us all better. I like the direction he’s heading, and I think his brother at Cincinnati and his dad’s background playing Australian rules football is all going to help him into being a really good football player for us. Hawgs: Speaking of competition, nowhere is it going to be more intense than in the return game, like you were saying earlier with Stephens, Sategna, Braxton, Green and Dubinion. I know everyone is on the same team, but what’s that dynamic been like having all those guys compete against each other on kick returns and punt returns? Fountain: I think the guys really just compete, and that’s what I like about them. There’s no animosity. They just compete and coach each other up. What you like to have, first and foremost, is a dynamic returner. And then if you can find some guys that maybe at times you can roll with, I think that’s also giving (other teams) a different guy to go cover. Like I said, I’m pleased with what Bryce did last year. And (Nathan) Parodi two years ago got some things going for us. And we just want to keep that going in the punt return game, whoever it is. And on K.O.R., we’re expecting some big things in that area. The K.O.R. is a little different now with some of the new rules with fair catches going to the 25. We try to be smart with that, make good decisions, but also I think we have some guys back there that can create some special momentum for us in games when we choose to do it at the right time. Hawgs: I’ve got to ask about long snappers. Can’t leave those guys out. Is Eli Stein going to be your go-to there? Fountain: There’s some really good competition there, as well. I thought the long snapping job and the punting job were very competitive. We have a kid named Ashton Ngo who came in from Hutchinson Community College and was very competitive this spring. What Ashton brings to the table is great speed and coverage. But the thing I was proud of with Eli was he broke his hand last year in the Ole Miss game, and he came back and got rolling with us in January and then he hurt his pec. So, he was in a little pain this spring. But what I like about it is, he didn’t miss a beat. He came out snapping the ball really well for us. I like that and his consistency. He’s got a year under his belt. But that’s another area where I’m really proud of the competition there. Hawgs: I know you can’t divulge too much information about trick plays, but when you and Coach Pittman talk about next season, what’s that conversation like when it comes to trick plays on special teams? Fountain: Well, we like to run trick plays if we can, that’s for sure. Hawgs: Oh, yeah. Fountain: It’s all about if it presents itself. And then, of course, before we ever will make a call in a game, it’s always up to the big man, Coach Pitt. And he’s going to make that call. But every week, I try to come up with a punt fake and a field goal fake, and he knows what it is and gets a feel on when I think it’s there. And then he’ll just come up and say, “Let’s run it if it’s there.” And if he does, it’s on. You just never know when he’s going to say, “Let’s do it.” At Alabama two years ago, it was really the right time. We were down 14, I think it was the early fourth quarter, and we really needed to continue to score. And he just came up and said, “Let’s run it,” and just keeps on walking. It’s just that quick. We’re always practicing that with our specialists in practice, not as much with the team until we get to the fall, but all spring we practice those things so we’ll be confident and ready so that when we run them it will be successful. Because if they’re successful, everybody loves you. And if they’re not, everybody thinks it’s a bad call. Hawgs: Truer words have never been spoken. That’s got to be such a rush, though, when you get that thumbs-up from Pittman to go for it, huh? Fountain: Oh, no doubt. No doubt.