Coach Kyle Whittingham had the same reaction former Utah coach Ron McBride used to have when asked about his kicking game Thursday after practice. Whittingham rolled his eyes, let out a sigh and muttered something under his breath.

If there's one thing that's not going real well for the Utes this spring it's the kicking game. But it's not necessarily the kickers that are keeping Whittingham up nights.

"Our snaps and holds are not where they should be," Whittingham said. "It's tough to gauge the kicker accurately when they're not getting consistent snaps and holds."

Last year the Utes' kicking game was almost flawless as Dan Beardall earned all-conference honors after making 16-of-19 field goals and 40-of-42 PATs.

With Beardall graduated, the kicking duties have fallen to Louie Sakoda, a sophomore from San Jose, who was the Utes' punter last year.

Sakoda is "clearly No. 1," according to Whittingham with Ben Vroman, a walk-on from Skyline High, No. 2. Two more kickers will join the team in the fall, but as of now Whittingham says the job is "Sakoda's to lose."

Whittingham is not exactly doing backflips over his kickers, but did say, "Sakoda has been doing a fairly good job this spring."

Vroman has been slowed by a groin injury, but is challenging Sakoda every day in practice.

"We get along really well," said Vroman, and Sakoda called it a "friendly competition."

Sakoda and Vroman can be seen running laps around the Ute practice field for the final half hour of practice after they've done their thing. They understand the coaches want to keep them busy, but Sakoda said that he has told the coaches, "Uh, it's only three steps that we need. But they don't see it that way."

Sakoda said his longest kick in high school was 49 yards, but believes his range is 55 yards. Vroman once kicked a 54-yarder in high school and says his range is 50 to 55 yards.

Last year, besides Beardall, the Utes had a solid long snapper in Brock Condie and a reliable holder in Eric Weddle. However, Condie has graduated and Weddle has been out this spring with a hamstring injury.

Three players are currently vying for the long-snapper position, senior Pete Aneiro, junior Casey Sutera and sophomore Terrence Apted.

With Weddle out, the Utes have tried receiver-turned-safety John Peel and quarterback Brett Ratliff. But the timing between the long snapper, holder and kicker hasn't been up to par so far.

"They just haven't been good enough up to this point,"

Whittingham said. "It should be automatic, but it's not right now."

The punter position is also up in the air now that Sakoda has moved over to placekicker. Brent Rawlings, a junior from Alta High School, was the backup punter last year and he's being challenged this spring by redshirt freshman Kepa Gaison from Hawaii.

Whittingham said a few more punters will join the team in the fall and will also be in the mix.

The kickoff duties could go to Sakoda or Vroman or one of the new kickers, whichever one can boot it out of the end zone the most consistently.


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