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The royal world of ‘King’ Louie

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LARAMIE, Wyo. — If you're the Wyoming Cowboys, one thing you don't want is a tight game with Utah.

That's because the Utes have King Louie.

Wyoming needs a big lead today at War Memorial Stadium in order to win. Otherwise, trouble. Louie Sakoda, the Utes' All-American kicker, isn't likely to miss a late-game kick. He's a near-perfect remedy for what ails a team. In dermatological terms, he's a wart remover, erasing those unsightly blemishes. In the medical sense, he's a bottle of aspirin, fixing a variety of problems.

Today the Utes and Cowboys meet for the 81st time, and despite the predicted triple-whammy of rain, snow and a hostile crowd, Utah can take comfort in knowing Sakoda is in tow. He has already won two games this season with his kicking — first at Michigan, where he made four field goals, and again last week when he nailed the game-winner against Oregon State.

The success has made him a household name on campus. Strangers stop him in the bookstore to offer high-fives. Media outlets wait for him every day after practice — an abnormality for kickers. Fans carry signs to the stadium that say things like, "King Louie Reigns!"

An unassuming 5-foot-9 senior, he's become a bona fide campus celebrity.

"Yeah, it's kinda weird," he said. "It's a little creepy. But it's been fun."

Seems everyone wants a piece of Louie.

"Every day, it's fun to wake up," he said.

So naturally, the question begs: Has his newfound celebrity helped him socially?

"It's hard to tell if girls are being nice because of what I do on the field or whatever," said Sakoda. "But it doesn't hurt my chances with the girls, if that answers your question."

Sakoda is arguably Utah's most popular player. Quarterback Brian Johnson is the team's best-known figure, but his streaky play has been a source of both exhilaration and exasperation. Defensive end Paul Kruger is an overpowering presence, but doesn't score points. The running backs divide the minutes and conquer.

Sakoda seems to attract the attention every game. He's a great story, having made 13-of-15 field goals this year. His only misses were on kicks of 48 and 54 yards, in high winds at Air Force.

But that doesn't mean he's your classic oddball kicker. He doesn't talk to the football or forget his helmet. He's a normal, well-adjusted guy. When pressed, he admits he was popular in high school.

"I've never really been an outcast," he said. "There's no real reason I should be put under the stigma that kickers have of being weird, because I'm not."

But he is a phenomenal punter and placekicker, having made 83 percent of his career field goals. His 10 MWC player-of-the-week awards ties the league record.

He recently broke a 76-year-old school record for most points scored in a career, and a 39-year-old mark for career punting yards. He has had 18 punts downed inside the 5-yard line.

Not good enough for King Louie's expectations.

"I've already fallen short of my goals," said Sakoda. "I missed those two field goals at Air Force, and it's always on my mind. I know I should have made those kicks, so every day I try to be the same person. Especially as a kicker, you have to have humility, more than anyone else on the field."

Good point ... but why?

"Because you need to know what your role is. Your job is to kick leather. It's kind of a cheesy job."

Cheesy but important. Kind of like being president.

On the surface, Sakoda is easygoing and open, willing to laugh at himself. But behind the eyes there is flint. A mentor helped him develop "trigger" phrases that relax him as he takes the field, a type of self-hypnosis. He practices kicks so often in his mind, the real thing is easy.

Still, what if it comes down to a kick again this week?

"It shouldn't," he said matter-of-factly. "But, yeah, whatever happens, we're all there to do a job. I'm prepared for anything."

It's such a splendid thing to watch a king holding court.

E-mail: rock@desnews.com