Tyson Helton was hired by Tommy West as the Tiger special teams and tight ends coach in March of 2004. He was charged with improving the special teams unit, as well as continuing to develop veteran tight end John Doucette. In the last two seasons, he has done just that and enters his third season with high expectations.
In 2005, Memphis kicker Stephen Gostkowski was responsible for nearly one-third of the team's scoring and was named the C-USA Special Teams Player of the Year. Gostkowski consistently improved under Helton's guidance and ranked fifth nationally in field goals and 26th in scoring. He also ended his career as Memphis' all-time leading scorer with 369 points and holds Tiger records in field goals and PATs. He was the first kicker selected in the 2006 NFL Draft, taken by the New England Patriots in the fourth round.
In addition, the Tiger punting game was on track with the addition of transfer Michael Gibson. Gibson, who booted 18 punts over 50 yards, was a second-team All-C-USA selection and finished the season ranked 11th nationally. The Tigers as a team ranked third nationally in net punting.
In his first season with the Tigers, the punt return unit improved from averaging 7.8 yards per return in 2003 to a mark of 10.3 yards per return in 2004. That same season, Gostkowski was a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award, and improved from 65 percent in field goals made in 2003 to an impressive 83 percent made in 2004. He improved that mark again in 2005, hitting 88 percent of his field goals.
Helton, the brother of Memphis assistant head coach Clay Helton and the son of former Houston head coach Kim Helton, had just completed his fourth season as a member of June Jones' Hawaii staff before accepting the position with Memphis. He arrived on the Manoa campus in 2000 as a graduate assistant, and was primarily responsible for the Warrior special teams during his tenure.
In 2001, Helton's first season as a full-time coach, the Warriors led the nation in kickoff return yardage and broke the NCAA record for highest average gain per return (30.3). Under Helton's direction, return specialist/wide receiver Chad Owens tied the NCAA record with two kick returns for a touchdown in a game. He became the seventh player in NCAA history and the first in Western Athletic Conference history to return two kicks for touchdowns in a game, scoring on kickoff and punt returns against Brigham Young on Dec. 8, 2001. In addition, Owens broke the NCAA record for most yards gained on kick returns with 342 (249 kickoff, 93 punt return) against the Cougars.
The Warriors averaged 21.4 yards on kickoff returns in 2002 and were ranked fifth in the WAC and 36th in the nation. Punter Mat McBriar, who is now with the Dallas Cowboys, averaged 43.7 yards per punt and finished his career ranked second on UH's all-time punting list, averaging 42.22 yards.
Although the Warriors were likely to gamble on fourth down in 2002, place-kicker Justin Ayat ranked fourth in the WAC and 49th nationally in field goals, averaging 1.07 per game. As a group, the Warriors ranked fifth in the WAC, converting 65 percent of their field goal attempts.
In three seasons as a full-time coach, Helton produced three All-WAC performers in Owens, Ayat and McBriar. Ayat also earned first-team Freshman All-America honors from Football News in 2001.
Helton grew up surrounded by football in Gainesville, Fla. His father was a college coach at Florida, Miami and Houston, and also with several NFL teams, including Tampa Bay, Miami and Houston. Helton's father served on the Houston staff with June Jones.
Helton's playing career began at an early age, but contact was limited until he was a high school freshman. His talents landed him a scholarship at Houston, where he was a backup quarterback for his father.
Helton, 29, earned his bachelor's degree in business at Houston in 1999 after a four-year career with the Cougars. He and his wife, April, have two daughters, Shelby Grace (3) and Presley, who was born this past summer.