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The Gophers football team's new special teams coordinator, Bob Ligashesky, has a career that speaks for itself.

In 40 years coaching in college and the NFL, Ligashesky has experienced winning at the highest level as a Super Bowl champion with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He's coached All-Pro specialists and the Big Ten's top kicker and punter in past seasons.

It takes a lot to impress Ligashesky. That's how you know his praise is genuine for Gophers kicker Dragan Kesich and punter Mark Crawford.

"Their experience and familiarity are something we'll lean on," Ligashesky said after a recent spring football practice. "They've been in game-winning situations, high-pressure situations. So we'll rely on that experience to lead our group."

Kesich enters his fifth year coming off a season where he became the first Gophers player to earn Big Ten kicker of the year honors since Emmitt Carpenter in 2016.

Kesich's 23 field goals during the 2023 season were tied for second most in program history, and his field goal percentage (85.2%) was the third best team mark since 1977. As exceptional as that performance was under coach P.J. Fleck last year, Ligashesky could be the coach to take Kesich's game even higher.

In 2018, Illinois kicker Chase McLaughlin was the top player at his position in the Big Ten under Ligashesky's direction. McLaughlin went from undrafted prospect to playing for seven different NFL teams, including 17 games with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season.

"He brings a different experience and different mindset that's really helping me take my game to the next level," Kesich said of Ligashesky. "He's an awesome dude."

With the graduation of veteran long snapper Brady Weeks, Kesich has been working on developing chemistry in spring practice with Weeks' replacement, redshirt freshman Ryan Algrim. Crawford, also a fifth-year senior, is still the primary holder on placekicks.

"[Algrim's] doing a great job in the spring," Ligashesky said. "We'll bring in more competition in the fall. That's a position to be determined."

Former Gophers special teams coach Rob Wegner stepped down from the position in early January after seven seasons with Fleck. Wegner recruited most of the players currently on special teams, but "Coach [Ligashesky] just brings a different perspective," Kesich said.

Ligashesky, who was at Syracuse last season, coached Big Ten punter of the year Blake Hayes at Illinois in 2019. Crawford averaged 40.4 net yards per punt last season with the Gophers, ranking fifth in the Big Ten. His goal is to be ranked No. 1 this year, but he shares Ligashesky's emphasis on "field position" being most important.

"There are certainly goals and expectations you want to be able to make for your own personal standard," Crawford said. "But ... if we win the field position battle, my job is done. That's the ultimate goal there."

The Gophers were last in the Big Ten in average yards per kickoff return (14.5) and second to last in total punt returns (eight) last season. Improvements need to be made, but philosophies on how often the Gophers return kicks will be up to Fleck, Ligashesky said.

Fleck first coached with Ligashesky when they were both on Tampa Bay's NFL staff in 2012. Fleck's career has come a long way since then, going from receivers coach to running his own program for years.

Not much has changed for Ligashesky, especially with a big reason he's still coaching into his 60s.

"There's nothing better in the world than you being able to give these guys something and see them light up," Ligashesky said. "When they get it and have success — that's really the essence and the passion of what we do."