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Utah punter Sean Sellwood leading the nation

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah senior Sean Sellwood is happy, but not satisfied to be the nation's leading punter.

"At this point, a lot of hard work has paid off but it's only halfway through the season," said Sellwood, who is averaging 48.4 yards per punt. "It'll definitely mean a lot more if I'm in this position at the end of the season. But as of now, I'm very pleased."

So, too, is Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. He has plenty of praise for the four-year starter.

"(Sean) has really been a weapon for us this year," Whittingham said.

Sellwood's 25 punts have covered 1,210 yards of ground.

What has really impressed Whittingham, though, is Utah's net punting average of 40.0 yards. The Utes rank second in the Pac-12 behind Oregon State (40.9).

"That speaks very highly of him when you consider we've had a couple blocked because those figure into your average," Whittingham explained. "So, to be able to be second in the conference after experiencing a couple of setbacks like that, means you're doing some good things."

Sellwood, who was born in South Africa, has done good things since joining the program out of Judge Memorial Catholic High School.

After redshirting in 2008, he went on to become a Freshman All-American. Although Whittingham said the great start was followed by a little bit of a sophomore slump, he noted that Sellwood picked things up last season and has taken a big step this year.

Sellwood has ranked first or second nationally over the last six weeks. He tied a school record with six punts over 50 yards in the Utah State game.

Last week against UCLA, Sellwood had a booming 65-yard punt that was muffed and wound up being recovered by Ryan Lacy for a Utah touchdown.

The kick impressed Bruins coach Jim Mora.

"That guy just bombed that thing," he said.

Sellwood acknowledged it was a really fun aspect of the game.

"The ball traveled really well," he said. "I looked up and all of a sudden our guys were in the end zone with it."

All things considered, Sellwood ranks it among the top punts he's had at Utah. That's really saying something considering he has punted the ball 177 times for 7,772 yards with the Utes. His 48 career kicks of 50 yards or better put him in a tie with Marv Bateman for second best in school history. He's just two away of equaling Louie Sakoda's team record.

When it comes to really good punts, though, Sellwood likes those that go 60 or more yards in the air — like the one last week at UCLA.

"I've had a couple of those in my career," he said. "But that was definitely one of my best."

Speaking of the best, Sellwood believes he's peaking as a punter — a process that began around the fourth or fifth game of 2011 when he averaged a previous career-best 45.0 yards per punt.

The numbers have continued to climb.

"I've just carried on this streak," Sellwood said. "It's all about consistency and I'm finding that I'm probably the most consistent I've been throughout my career at this point. So I'm definitely doing the best kicking."

Even so, things haven't been completely smooth this season.

When a stretch of struggles with protection developed, the Utes turned to another punter. True freshman Tom Hackett, a walk-on from Australia, was brought in to rugby punt. The situational switch gave the opposition something else to think about. Whittingham credits special teams coach Jay Hill for devising the plan. It wound up opening things up for Sellwood by slowing down the punt rush.

Hackett has proven to be effective as well, averaging 42.9 yards on 10 punts.

"They're doing a nice job," Whittingham said.

Sellwood admits it took a little time for him to adjust to the situation.

"At first it kind of upset my flow and things but I've come to reason with it," he said. "I think it's obviously best for the team and it has worked out really well."

Life at the top — as the nation's leading punter — is also fine with Sellwood.

"It's definitely really, really cool. Absolutely," he said. "It's pretty good. I've just got to keep on this road."

Email: dirk@desnews.com

Twitter: @DirkFacer