Weekdays from 12-3 PM, Alema Harrington broadcasts LIVE from the 960 Studios at Thanksgiving Point, giving you three hours dedicated to Cougar talk. Alema will keep you up-to-speed on everything from recruits to this week’s starters. As a former football player at BYU with almost 20 years in broadcasting, Alema has the connections to get the inside story first.
Hello, Cougar Nation! Welcome back to the “Hatch of Knowledge.” To help you get through the next 100 days until BYU football is back on the field, I will be breaking down the position groups and the depth chart battles that will be happening as the Cougars prepare to open the 2013 campaign against the Virginia Cavaliers on August 31. Today’s position breakdown will be the specialists group- including kickers, punters, and long-snappers.
BYU’s kicking game in 2012 couldn’t have been more of mixed bag. There were injury concerns, dismal performances, dubious decisions made, and a few MVP-caliber performances. BYU could point to multiple games on the 2012 slate that were lost due in large part to breakdowns in special teams. Will 2013 bring a more balanced kicking attack that won’t affect the Cougars negatively? That remains to be seen.
Justin Sorensen has NFL potential written all over him. The senior was a prep phenomenon, booming state record 62 yard field goals while picking up touchbacks with ease. He had a solid freshman year at BYU settling into a kickoff specialist role, with hopes that he would take over all place-kicking duties upon his return from the mission field. His sophomore year yielded comparable kickoff statistics but his field goal accuracy left something to be desired; only connecting on 60% of his attempts. In the offseason, it was revealed that Sorensen had suffered a back injury during the 2011 season and would undergo surgery. His recovery was slow and arduous and entering 2012 there were questions about if Sorensen should redshirt. BYU coaches insisted that he would be ready to go, but it was evident that Sorensen was hampered. He labored through his junior season making only 50% of his field goal attempts and his health made extra point attempts must watch television instead of an afterthought for Cougar fans. It is now 2013 and Sorensen said he’s finally 100% healthy heading into his senior season. BYU fans can only hope he is. If Sorensen can flash some of the talent and potential he has in his golden right leg, BYU will be well positioned in the kicking game. If not, it could be another long year of kicking adventures for the Cougars.
A look at the numbers reveals an interesting statistic about the effects of Sorensen’s injury. As mentioned previously, Sorensen holds the Utah High School record for longest field goal at 62 yards. Through his first 3 seasons at BYU, Sorensen has yet to connect on a kick longer than 50 yards, going 0/5 for his career this far. His career long for the Cougars is only 46 yards. The record for longest field goal at BYU is 56 yards, which is conceivably in Sorensen’s range. It will be interesting to see what Sorensen’s senior season at BYU will turn out like.
While Sorensen is penciled as the starter at kicker, BYU has 2 other kickers on the team to push Sorensen and provide a safety net if Sorensen falters. Tyler Jackson participated in Spring Camp and had a solid outing. Jackson, a LDS Church member from Mississippi, transferred to BYU from Itawamba Community College in Fulton, MS, where he was the starting kicker his freshman year. Jackson garnered MACJC All-Conference honors in his only season at Itawamba, connecting on 6 of 8 field goals and 25 of 25 on PAT’s. Jackson’s season long field goal at Itawamba was 47 yards. Jackson fielded strong interest from Ole Miss in addition to BYU coming out of junior college so it appears that BYU will benefit from Jackson’s presence.
BYU also recently offered a preferred walk-on spot to Trevor Samson from Fresno City College. Samson was a standout kicker in high school at Clovis West HS in Fresno and appears to be more of a kickoff specialist than all-around kicker at this point. His sophomore stats at Fresno show he went 6/9 on field goals with a long of 45 yards. Samson will enroll at BYU in June and take part in Fall Camp with BYU and has stated that Cougar coaches expressed to him that if he can prove he’s the best kicker on the team he will be rewarded with a scholarship. It remains to be seen if Samson will indeed hone his all-around kicking game but BYU will be better for having him in camp to push Sorensen and Jackson.
BYU lost one of the best punters in the nation to graduation over the winter in Riley Stephenson. Stephenson was spectacular last season, routinely pinning opponents deep inside their own 20 yard line. Stephenson’s best outing of the year came in the Poinsettia Bowl against San Diego State, where he pinned the Aztecs inside the 5 yard line all night long. How does BYU replace such production and reliability? That remains to be seen.
Scott Arellano is a junior college transfer from Foothill College, who spent last season as Stephenson’s backup. Arellano showed glimpses of his talent throughout Spring Ball booming high, hanging punts that allowed his coverage team time to get into position but he struggled with consistency. He’d unleash a sky rocket on one attempt and the next punt would be a shank off the side of his foot. The hope is that Arellano will hone his skill and show consistency this fall and wrap up the starting job early on in fall camp.
Arellano’s stats at Foothill College revealed that he does indeed have a strong leg. His net punting average at Foothill was a solid 40.67 yards per attempt. Arellano placed 15 of his 46 attempts inside the 20 and caused 12 other punts to be fair caught. He also hit 8 punts more than 50 yards, with a season long of 68 yards. It remains to be seen if Arellano can repeat or even improve those stats at BYU.
Pushing Arellano in Spring Ball was Jordan Miller from Green Valley High School in Henderson, NV. Miller was a redshirt on the 2009 squad and returned from his LDS mission in the offseason. Miller struggled with consistency in Spring Ball alongside Arellano but his kicks didn’t seem to have the high-hanging arc that Arellano showed. Competition breeds success and the Cougar coaching staff is hoping that Miller and Arellano will hone their craft over the summer and provide the stability and consistency they long for this fall.
Deep Snappers toil in anonymity and they prefer it that way. When fans know the Deep Snappers name it usually means the player made a critical error and cost the team in some fashion. BYU fans barely knew the name of Reed Hornung who toiled in said anonymity over the past 3 seasons. Hornung was an unsung hero as the starting deep snapper for BYU, consistently delivering the ball where it needed to be on field goal attempts, PAT’s, and punts. Hornung took pride in his craft and is still looking for a chance to play in NFL. Cougar fans may remember Hornung for his forced fumble he caused during the Armed Forces Bowl in 2011. That fumble and subsequent recovery helped BYU turn the corner against Tulsa and BYU ultimately won the game on the memorable Riley Nelson to Cody Hoffman fake spike ”Red Alert” pass.
BYU now is looking for Hornung’s replacement and no less than 6 players got reps at Deep Snapper during Spring Ball. Offensive Linemen Chris Hardinger and Parker Dawe (older brother of DL commit Zac Dawe), Linebacker Kevin O’Mary, Deep Snappers Devin Brewer and Ben Chapple, as well as Fullback Iona Pritchard took reps during spring, with none of the player seemingly separating themselves from the pack. The battle is expected to continue into fall camp but the coaching staff will surely be looking to settle on a player early on in camp to give them the maximum reps possible before the Cougar head to Charlottesville, VA to take on the Virginia Cavaliers.
Dave McCann, TV Play-by-Play voice for the Cougars, joined Ben and Alema to talk about how to survive the long summer months without BYU football, as well as talking about BYU baseball in WCC Tournament, and BYU basketball thoughts going into 2013-14.