Dave Zastudil was a punter for Ohio in the late 1990s and early 2000s. He led the MAC in punting all four seasons he was in Athens, Ohio. In 2001 he was named a First Team All-American by the likes of the Football News and the Football Writers Association of America, as well as a Second Team AP All-American.
He was taken in Round 4 of the 2002 NFL Draft by the Baltimore Ravens and in 13 seasons (he's entering his 14th, now with the Arizona Cardinals), Zastudil has been automatic. One of the most consistent punters in the NFL, the former Bobcat is one of the best special teams players in MAC history, both in terms of what he accomplished in college, and after. Plus, with a name like Zastudil, he was born to have an award named after him.
In 2013 a fellow punter, Miami's Zac Murphy, took home the honors. Murphy was fantastic for the 0-12 RedHawks, and prevented many ugly games from turning into nightmares. After a ridiculous start to the season that had him on pace at one point to punt for more than 5,000 yards, Murphy cooled off. He still ended up leading the nation in punting, and was the fan's choice to take home the inaugural Zinc Zastudil.
Given to the best MAC special teams player, the award is open to punters, kickers and return men. This year's crop of candidates features an exciting mix of all three. Below are the five names that kept popping up when our staff was trying to put together a watch list for this award. These by no means are the only players eligible to win this honor, they are simply the favorites before the season begins.
Sorted alphabetically, here are the members of the 2014 Zinc Zastudil Award Watch List:
The junior Kent State Golden Flash pulled double-duty in 2013, and was honored with Second Team All-MAC honors as a punter behind Murphy. The No. 46 player on our countdown of the top MAC football players of 2014, Melchiori is a dynamic weapon for Kent State. In 2013 he was 9-for-14 on field goals, and averaged 44.5 yards per punt on 35 punts, pinning 14 inside the 20. Melchiori is the type of do-everything special teams player teams dream of, and if he can have a big year field goal kicking wise, he stands a good chance of winning this honor.
This Ohio junior earned First Team All-MAC honors as a kick returner in 2013 after racking up 19 returns for 420 yards. Incredibly quick, with good vision, he produced one of the more entertaining returns of last season in the 'Cats season opener at Louisville when he did a cartwheel of sorts to avoid a tackle. With Xavier Hughes and Travis Carrie gone, Bass could see more returns in 2014.
Another junior, Devin Campbell has spent the first two seasons of his career behind Brandon Oliver on the Buffalo depth chart, but in the return game he was able to shine. In 2013 he returned 28 kicks for 669 yards and a touchdown. He's quick, possesses excellent field vision, and has the frame to dish out some hits while sprinting up the sideline. His output was better than Bass' in 2013, but he did not receive any official All-MAC honors. If he can continue to improve those numbers, it'll be hard to ignore him again in 2014.
The only preseason All-American (Phil Steele, Sporting News) in the MAC is senior Toledo kicker Jeremiah Detmer, and for good reason. The 2013 First Team All-MAC kicker and Special Teams Player of the Year was 19-for-20 on field goal attempts and 44-45 on extra points for the Rockets as a junior. His 95 percent success rate on field goals was third in the nation, and tied an NCAA record for making 23 consecutive field goal attempts before missing his second attempt of 2013. The No. 25 player on our countdown, Detmer is 48-for-55 on field goals for his career.
Most MAC fans may not pay attention to UMass, but when Trey Dudley-Giles is back to return a punt or kick, they may want to. The junior defensive back had great success returning kicks for UMass in 2013, totalling 30 returns for 669 yards. He also handled all 12 of the team's punt returns, notching 147 total yards. With some other weapons on UMass' roster that should draw some attention away from him this fall, Dudley-Giles has been tabbed as a preseason All-MAC performer at punt returner by Phil Steele.
Like last year the MAC fans will have the final say in who earns this award. We'll update this watch list midway through the season, and again after the MAC Championship, with the award winners being announced after voting concludes one week after the 2014 MAC football championship.