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Utah notes: Kickers competing for job

Utah's Hayes Hicken and Chayden Johnston talk to reporters after practice at Eccles Football Center at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 28, 2017.
Utah's Hayes Hicken and Chayden Johnston talk to reporters after practice at Eccles Football Center at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 28, 2017.
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s competition at kicker is heating up. Former Bingham High standout Chayden Johnston and ex-Utah Valley University soccer star Matt Gay have emerged as the front-runners for the job, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said this week.

He also noted that the battle to replace the graduated Andy Phillips was very close.

Ideally, Whittingham would like to have the outcome decided at least one week before the Aug. 31 season opener against North Dakota. In the meantime, both kickers are building a body of work in training camp.

“I love the competition. The competition just pushes us both,” said Johnston, a freshman who returned from an LDS Church mission to Minnesota in May. “What’s so great about the competition is both of us just push each other to be the best. No hard feelings. We’re really just trying to do the best for the team.”

Gay, who kicked for Orem High as a senior before an injury led him to pursue soccer instead, is making the most of an invitation to walk on after an award-winning stint on the pitch at UVU.

“I’m a competitive guy and so any opportunity, anything I’m doing, I’m going to compete and I want to be able to raise my ability,” Gay said. “Chayden’s a great kicker. So when we’re both making field goals, he’s raising my level, I’m raising his level.”

SCHOLARSHIP AWARDED: Sophomore center Paul Toala is no longer a walk-on. Whittingham has awarded him a scholarship.

“That’s always a great thing, and Paul has earned it,” he said.

Whittingham added that Toala is on the two-deep chart and might be a starter with Lo Falemaka sidelined with an injury.

REPLACING DIMICK: Utah defensive line coach Lewis Powell acknowledged that replacing Hunter Dimick will be difficult. The defensive end concluded his collegiate career last season as the Utes’ all-time leader in sacks with 29.5. He wound up with 44 career tackles for loss.

“I don’t think it’s going to be easy to replace my man Hunter, HD. But we’ve got a lot of young pups that have a lot of ability that have seen Hunter Dimick do it live,” Powell said. “So those guys have seen him do it and hopefully they can assimilate and try to do their best to be like Hunter.”

PLAY BALL: The Utes have moved camp across the street to the baseball field for much of the next two weeks.

“It’s a tradition, but more than anything if we practice on (the football) field over there every day it would be a dirt patch by the first game of the season,” Whittingham said. “So we appreciate the baseball team letting us come out here for eight or nine practices and giving our field a break. We’ll move back over towards the end of next week.”

EXTRA POINTS: Whittingham said the Utes will have their first scrimmage on Saturday. … Wide receiver Derrick Vickers and defensive back Tareke Lewis are still wrapping up junior college academics. Whittingham described the situation as “wait and see.” The end of this week, he explained, may be the point of no return in terms of getting them in camp. … Senior receiver Kyle Fulks tops the depth chart at return specialist.

Email: dirk@deseretnews.com

Twitter: @DirkFacer