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Aug 26, 2013

TULSA, Okla. - While Tulsa gets ready to tee it up and begin the 2013 season on Thursday, some of the hottest competition during preseason camp has been for the placekicking and punting duties.

Punter and kickoff specialist Cole Way returns this season, but freshman Dalton Parks has emerged as an option in the punting game, while Way and junior Carl Salazar have battled for the placekicking duties.

"We really feel good about where we are with our specialists," Tulsa Head Coach Bill Blankenship said. "The punting is an area where we have the incumbent back in Cole Way. We were fortunate to bring in Dalton Parks, a young man that walked on here from Staley High School (in Kansas City). Dalton has been very impressive through fall camp, and it became evident early on that we had real competition. Carl Salazar has been very consistent. It's just been a very quiet confidence. He probably hasn't missed more than a handful of kicks in the last two weeks, and we kick a bunch of field goals everyday."

Way, a junior from Union High School, has served as the punter for the better part of his two seasons with the Golden Hurricane, including in all 14 contests in 2012. He also handled kickoff duties in 2012 and has been the holder on PAT and field goal attempts. He has averaged 38.8 yards on 111 punts in his career, placing 31 punts inside the 20-yard line, and averaged 61.9 yards on 89 kickoffs with 39 touchbacks last year.



Parks has been competing with Way on the punting front throughout the preseason. He averaged 43.4 yards per punt as a high school senior.

"(Parks) and Cole have been fighting it out, and Dalton has earned the right to get to be a part of that," said Blankenship. "We think the competition is ongoing, but I made the statement at the press conference (Friday) that I expect both of them to punt in the opening game, if we get into that many situations. They each have their best skillset, but we've been very impressed with Dalton. If he can do as well when the bullets are flying in real games as what he's done so far, people will be really impressed with his ability."

The strong-legged Way has been in competition with junior transfer Carl Salazar throughout the preseason practices to be the primary placekicker for field goals and PATs. Salazar came to Tulsa by way of the Air Force Academy and the University of Oklahoma. A native of Broken Arrow, Salazar made 22-of-26 field goal attempts and 109-of-111 PATs during his three-year varsity career for the Tigers.

"(Salazar) doesn't have the strongest leg, but he gets the ball up. He's very quick through it. He's very consistent," Blankenship said. "The nice thing about Cole Way is, we started using him last year as kind of a backup placekicker, and he has continued that. He has been extraordinarily good. So, I think he's given Carl the kind of competition we need at the placement spot. Dalton has given Cole what we need at the punting spot. All in all, we're going to be better. We could use Cole, especially on longer field goals."

TU assistant head coach and special teams coordinator Scott Downing said the competition among the kickers during preseason camp, which will move forward into the season, will work to the benefit of the team.

"It's really good for both Cole and Dalton, and then Cole and Carl. Competition makes all of us better. I think we're going to get the best out of whomever is in the game kicking and punting this fall."

The Golden Hurricane also returns sophomore deep snapper Rey Higuera. Often an overlooked position, it is among the most important on the special teams units.

"We really feel good about where we are with our specialists. The one most people don't talk about - we have our snapper back, Rey Higuera, from a year ago. He's very solid. He's had a really productive fall camp," Blankenship said.

As for the other 8-10 members of any special teams unit, Downing described the ideal players as fast, athletic and willing to perform the necessary tasks to make the block that breaks a long return or protects a field goal, or make a tackle that will pin the opponents into unfavorable field position.

"I think the critical thing they have to do, is be able to operate in space," Downing said. "They have to be a guy that has, obviously great speed, some athletic ability, the ability to move. But most of all, they have to have a desire to go out and play. Many people just look at it as their opportunity to get on the field, but I think we have a nucleus of guys that take great pride in performing the techniques that they've learned to the best of their ability, and I think that's helped us continue to develop into a special teams-type culture here that breeds excellence."