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New rule expands opportunities for young coaches

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New rule expands opportunities for young coaches

STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) When longtime special teams coordinator Joe DeForest left to take charge of West Virginia's defense, Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy took advantage of a new NCAA rule to help replace him.

Gundy brought in graduate assistant Ty Linder from Texas Tech and gave him oversight of the Cowboys' punts, kickoffs and field goals. It was a move made possible by a new NCAA rule that allows football programs to have four graduate assistants - instead of just two - starting this season.

Linder, an ex-linebacker for the Red Raiders, had worked with tight ends and special teams for four years at his alma mater before Gundy picked him to come to Stillwater. He had to wait in limbo for a few months until the rule took effect in August, in time for training camp.

``I knew we were going to need some help,'' Gundy said.

Oklahoma State also hired safeties coach Van Malone from Tulsa to fill DeForest's duties, keeping the number of allowed assistant coaches at nine.

Gundy ended up giving Linder a good deal of responsibility, along with some help. Another graduate assistant, Andrew Thacker, assists with the punt team preparations. Running backs coach Jemal Singleton aids with kickoff return plans, and Gundy works with the kickoff unit.

``He's not handling the workload like Joe did, but he's taking the lead on most of it and I've been involved in it a little bit more. I wasn't involved in the Kansas State game, but I was involved in the other ones,'' Gundy said, joking, after Kansas State got a 100-yard kickoff return TD from Tyler Lockett last week.

The Big East proposed the new GA rule as a way to provide additional opportunities for those with coaching aspirations, including minorities. As the title implies, GAs must be pursuing a postgraduate degree. The positions are intended for people who have finished school, or their athletic eligibility, within the previous seven years.

``More than anything, it allows you to bring them along as coaches, so there's a bigger pool when opportunities come for guys that are prepared for other jobs,'' said Oklahoma's Bob Stoops, who started his career as a GA at Iowa. ``It also just allows you to have more people, whether it's working with scout teams or hands-on with your players. The thing is, we deal with a lot of players. It just helps getting more eyes and people in their ears.''

Oklahoma State's GAs have been high-profile this season. Beyond Linder, Jermial Ashley was pushed into a bigger role when defensive coordinator Bill Young had to miss two weeks early this season because of medical issues.

At Oklahoma, Stoops used the two extra spots to add a pair of former Sooners who'd played in the NFL: tight end Joe Jon Finley and All-American cornerback Derrick Strait.

``It's a big step, getting my foot in the door,'' said Strait, who started his new job in the spring. ``And what better place to start than at OU? All in all, it's a positive thing for me getting my coaching career started.''

While Strait said he's able to pass along tips from his playing career, he's learning as much as the players. He works with defensive coordinator Mike Stoops and linebackers coach Tim Kish, trying to understand that position better. He also has some more menial tasks: preparing folders, hunting down information for his bosses, cutting up film - ``small things that people don't pay attention to,'' he said.

But this is about opportunity, not celebrity.

Bob Stoops remembers painting houses every summer just to make ends meet. He's convinced now that Barry Alvarez, Kirk Ferentz, Bernie Wyatt and others on the Iowa coaching staff didn't really need the work done, but let him do it because he needed the money. Oftentimes, Stoops would have to borrow $100 from Wyatt and pay him back on payday.

Jerry Emig, the athletic spokesman at Ohio State, said the Buckeyes' GAs get a stipend for lodging and meals, and they can participate in the university's health insurance plan, in addition to having their tuition covered.

``You've got to pay your dues before you get to that level,'' Strait said.

Linder won't exactly get the chance to match wits with the man he helped replaced when West Virginia visits Oklahoma State on Saturday. DeForest left to become the Mountaineers' defensive coordinator, in part because it could expand his resume in hopes of becoming a head coach one day.

In DeForest's 11 years at Oklahoma State, his special teams were considered among the best in the nation - with Dan Bailey winning the Lou Groza Award as the nation's top kicker and Matt Fodge getting the Ray Guy Award for top punter.

``Joe's very good. His special teams' organizational skills for being a coordinator were excellent and his years of experience are excellent,'' Gundy said. ``We have a young guy doing it that I think's an up and rising special teams coordinator at some point in his career.

``But we can't take a 27-year-old and all of a sudden make him as effective as a 47-year-old. ... He has to learn on the run.''

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AP Sports Writer Rusty Miller contributed to this report from Columbus, Ohio.

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5 reasons the Caps beat the Lightning in Game 6

5 reasons the Caps beat the Lightning in Game 6

After losing three straight, the Capitals battled back in Game 6 on Monday. With their 3-0 win, Washington forced the Eastern Conference Final into a decisive Game 7 on Wednesday.

Here is how the Caps did it.

1. Braden Holtby matched Andrei Vasilevskiy save for save

Andrei Vasilevskiy was just as great in this game as he was in the three previous, but one of the major differences in this one was that Holtby was just as good. He may not have been tested as much (Vasilevskiy made 32 saves, Holtby 24), but he was big when the team needed.

In the second period with the scored tied at 0, Holtby made one of the most critical saves perhaps of the entire season when he denied Anthony Cirelli with the toe on a 2-on-1. When the Caps took the lead, Holtby really shut the door in the third period with 10 saves to cap off what was his fifth career playoff shutout and first shutout of the entire season.

2. T.J. Oshie’s timely goal

Over halfway into the game, it looked like it was just going to be one of those nights. Caps fans know it well by now. Washington outplays their opponent, they get chance after chance and develop a whopping advantage in shots, but they run into a hot goalie and a random play suddenly turns into a goal for the other team, game and season over.

Vasilevskiy was on his way to having perhaps his best performance of the series. Considering how he played in the three games prior to Game 6, that’s saying something. The Caps were doing everything right, but he continued to make save after save. Then on the power play in the second period, John Carlson struck the inside of the post, the horn went off and the roar of the crowd gave way to dismay as the referee waved his arms to indicate there was no goal and play continued. Just seconds later, T.J. Oshie gave the Caps the 1-0 lead.

You have to wonder if doubt was starting to creep into the back of the minds of the players when that puck struck the post as they wondered what else they had to do to beat Vasilevskiy. Luckily, that feeling didn’t last long.

3. Special teams

Braydon Coburn’s tripping penalty in the second period gave Washington its only power play of the night and its first since the second period of Game 4. They had to make it count given how well Vasilveskiy was playing and they did.

Washington now has a power play goal in each of their three wins against the Lightning and no power play goals in their three losses. So yeah, it’s significant.

Tampa Bay had two opportunities of their own, but Washington managed to kill off both power plays in the penalty kill’s best performance of the series.

4. Washington’s physical game plan

On paper, the Lightning are better than the Caps in most categories. One area in which Washington has the edge, however, is physical play and it was clear very early that they intended to use that to their advantage in Game 6. Tampa Bay was pushed around and they seemed to struggle to recover.

Ovechkin was a one-man wrecking ball out there hitting everything that moved. The energy he brought with every hit was palpable and both the team and the crowd fed on it.

Washington was credited with 39 hits on the night compared to Tampa Bay’s 19. Ovechkin had four of those as did Nicklas Backstrom while Devante Smith-Pelly contributed five and Tom Wilson and Brooks Orpik each led the team with six.

5. Fourth line dagger

Tampa Bay’s fourth line was the story of Game 5, but Washington’s fourth line sealed the deal on Monday with its third period goal.

Chandler Stephenson beat out an icing call, forcing Braydon Coburn to play the puck along the wall. Jay Beagle picked it up, fed back to Stephenson who backhanded a pass for the perfect setup for Devante Smith-Pelly.

Smith-Pelly scored seven goals in the regular season. He now has four in the playoffs.

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Soto, Harper homer in Nats' win over Padres

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Soto, Harper homer in Nats' win over Padres

WASHINGTON -- Juan Soto, the youngest player in the majors at 19, hit a three-run homer in his first career start as the Washington Nationals defeated the San Diego Padres 10-2 on Monday.

Mark Reynolds had two solo home runs for the Nationals, who snapped a three-game losing streak. Bryce Harper had a homer and an RBI double.

Soto's drive highlighted a five-run second inning for Washington. The promising outfielder, who played for three minor league teams this season, hit the first pitch from Robbie Erlin (1-3) over the Nationals bullpen in left-center field. Soto also singled.

Soto's homer traveled an estimated 442 feet at Nationals Park. He earned a standing ovation from the crowd and the teenager responded by taking a curtain call. Per Baseball-Reference.com, Soto became the first teenager to hit a home run in a major league game since Harper on Sept. 30, 2012.

Called up to Washington on Sunday, Soto became the first 19-year-old to make his major league debut since Dodgers pitcher Julio Urias in 2016. He entered that game in the eighth inning as a pinch-hitter and struck out.

Washington's starting left fielder began the season at Class A Hagerstown. He hit a combined .362 with 14 homers and 52 RBIs in his three minor league stops.

Gio Gonzalez (5-2) allowed two runs and two hits in seven innings.

San Diego's Franmil Reyes, playing in his seventh career game, also hit his first career home run.

Trea Turner hit a pair of RBI doubles for Washington. Reynolds had three hits.

Erlin surrendered six runs and seven hits over four innings in his third start of the season. San Diego had won three in a row.

Reyes connected for a two-run homer in the fourth inning, but the Padres' lineup generated little else against Gonzalez, who allowed one run over six innings in a no-decision at San Diego on May 9.

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