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Gary Wunderlich leads Ole Miss’ special teams into season

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the fifth of a 10-part series breaking down each position on Ole Miss’ football team entering fall camp. A different position will be featured each day leading up to the Rebels’ first day of practice on Aug. 2.

Every offense wants to end its possessions with a touchdown, but there’s a good chance Ole Miss will come away with points either way if it gets close enough to the end zone.

The Rebels have Gary Wunderlich.

Wunderlich leads the Rebels’ special teams unit into the upcoming season as one of the more accomplished placekickers in the nation. A senior, Wunderlich has connected on nearly 84 percent of his field goals in his career and led the nation with a 95.7-percent conversion rate (22 of 23) a season ago.

Wunderlich, who’s on the preseason Lou Groza Award watch list for the nation’s top placekicker, ranked fifth nationally last season in field goals per game (1.83) and 26th in points per game (8.9). He’ll try to move up on a list where he’s already third in school history in field goals (47), points scored (265) and extra points made (124).

The Memphis native will also punt occasionally, averaging 43.7 yards per punt last season. He’ll split those duties again with fellow senior Will Gleeson after Gleeson averaged 44.1 yards on a team-high 28 punts. Gleeson pinned 10 of those inside the opponents’ 20-yard line.

Wunderlich’s role could expand even more with the Rebels needing a new kickoff specialist following the graduation of Nathan Noble, who handled all but one of Ole Miss’ 79 kickoffs last season with 32 of them going for touchbacks. Wunderlich handled the other one.

Ole Miss will also use fall camp to sort through its options to return punts and kickoffs. Carlos Davis accounted for 803 of the Rebels’ 899 total return yards a season ago, but his eligibility ran out.

Receivers Van Jefferson and Markell Pack are prime candidates to return punts after handling those duties on a limited basis in past seasons. Jefferson returned four punts for 11 yards a season ago. Some of the Rebels’ newcomers, including cornerback D.D. Bowie, may get a look there, too.

Safety Zedrick Woods and running back Eugene Brazley are the only players on the roster with experience returning kickoffs, and they’ve combined to do it three times. Jefferson and Pack could be candidates there, too, as could running backs Eric Swinney and Jordan Wilkins, who got a look there in the spring after missing all of last season after being declared academically ineligible.