For a game that is called “football,” the players who actually use their feet to kick the ball often don’t get a lot of love.
Sometimes they even hear boos from their own fans as they trot out onto the field, since a punt means the offense got stopped and a field goal isn’t as good as a touchdown.
But those who know the game best recognize that having consistent kicking and punting can change the fortunes of a team.
Just like with other positions, the BYU football team is focused on having a competition at the kicking and punting positions during fall camp to find the best guys for the job.
“It’s been fun,” Cougar senior kicker Andrew Mikkelsen said. “Having the new guys come in is fun because it gives us older guys a challenge and pushes us a little more. You can see that taking place in every position group throughout the team and it’s no different with us as kickers. It elevates our level of play.”
Ed Lamb, assistant head coach, linebacker coach and special teams coordinator, said he sees one kicking spot as being virtually locked down already, thanks to both previous and current performance.
“At the kickoff position, Andrew (Mikkelsen) is one of the best in America and our kickoff coverage has benefited from that,” Lamb said. “He’s done that for a long time and we anticipate he will continue to be the main guy on that.”
Things are a little different in the kickoff game because of the new rule change that allows receiving teams to fair catch a kickoff and take the ball at the 25-yard line.
“It terms of what we do now, it can’t change very much,” Lamb said. “We may face an aggressive kickoff return team that brings it out of the end zone. No matter how high we hang it in the air, they’re going to set up a return. We have to prepare to cover that way.”
Lamb said the Cougars are looking at how aggressive to be with their own kickoff return game.
“We don’t want to sell our guys short,” he said. “If we are a dynamic kickoff return team, we don’t want to settle for the 25-yard line. At the same time, we need to train our return team to recognize the risk-reward of kicks that are hung up high in the air.”
From a kicker’s perspective, Mikkelsen said he doesn’t feel like the new rules will change his approach.
“A lot of teams are fine with giving the other team the ball at the 25-yard line and just letting the offensive series take place from there,” Mikkelsen said. “But if you look at the athletes we have and the mentality we have in terms of our kickoff coverage and we were pretty productive last year.”
BYU is hoping to improve the placekicking game after the Cougars went 14-for-20 in 2017 with a long of 46 yards.
“At the field goal kicking spot, Andrew Mikkelsen significantly improved from last year and Skyler Southam came in ready to go,” Lamb said. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see either one of those guys take the placekicking duties.”
Mikkelsen said Southam, a freshman from Wasatch who recently returned from a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has shown well since he got to Provo.
“I think the transition has been pretty natural for him,” Mikkelsen said. “He’s come in off his mission and been able to compete for the starting spot right away. I can’t think of too many misses he’s had in fall camp.”
Lamb has been pleased with the progress the kickers have made to this point in camp.
“We are making kicks right now with shorter snap-to-kick operation time at a level of consistency at a level where we weren’t even able to attempt it last year,” Lamb said. “We are much improved in that area.”
BYU also has a pair of punters vying to replace Jonny Linehan, each with their own strengths.
“Rhett Almond has significantly upped his punting game,” Lamb said. “He has been fantastic, kicking some booming, high-hanging spiral punts. We brought in Danny Jones for his rugby-style of kicking, Aussie-rule kicking. He’s got a big powerful leg and so we as developing him with his comfort level and what we do. We’ve got a real competition going on there at punter.”
Almond, a senior, said he’s enjoying working with Jones, who comes in from Australia as a sophomore.
“He’s a really good guy and really fun to be around,” Almond said. “Jonny left and we got another accent now, but we love it. It gives character to our unit. We feel like we are already pretty close.”
With a couple of weeks until the season opener at Arizona, the punters and kickers said the next step is to find the right balance. They want to hone their technique but they also want to make sure their bodies aren’t worn out.
“The secret for me is that as we get closer, I need to be taking fewer reps,” Mikkelsen said. “I’m the type of guy who likes to be working on something, but in terms of kicking that can be not the best because you get fatigued. I have to make sure I’m staying loose and limber and not doing too much.”