Imagine being an 18-year-old freshman kicker called on to attempt a game-winning field goal in the season opener and debut of a new head coach.

Such was the start to Jake Oldroyd’s BYU career.

But that’s not all.

As you trot onto the field, you realize that most of your teammates don’t even know your name.

You just watched Taysom Hill, back from his 2015 season-ending injury, drive the Cougars 53 yards in nine plays to get into field goal range.

As the huddle breaks, the Arizona Wildcats line up to try and stop you. There are eight seconds on the clock. The field goal try will be 33 yards. If you make it, you are a hero and if you miss, well …

The raucous crowd waits in anticipation.

BYU and Arizona agreed to play at a neutral site at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. But it’s hardly neutral. Of the announced crowd of 50,528, an estimated 30,000 BYU fans showed up and every one of them is waiting for your kick. Oh, and the game is being televised live on ESPN, so there’s that too.

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Observers notice you are the only player on the field wearing green cleats. What they don’t know is those are your lucky cleats that you brought to BYU from Carroll High in South Lake, Texas. You also have them on because you weren’t issued any shoes from the team. At least, not yet.

The snap to the holder Mitchell Juergens is perfect, you drive your foot into the ball and the kick sails through the uprights for an 18-16 victory. The place goes bananas as your teammates mob you on the sideline and Kalani Sitake celebrates his first win.

“That kick changed my life. It’s what cemented me as a contributor to the team,” Oldroyd said. “I go back to that moment all the time. It impacts me every day and it reminds me of what I’m capable of achieving.”

The joy Oldroyd experienced in beating Arizona was tempered with an injury and medical redshirt two games later. He also weathered a tough post-mission 2019 season, when he converted on just 16 of 24 field goal attempts and came close to losing his job.

“I forgot about that (Arizona) kick for a little bit,” he said. “I forgot how much I enjoyed the game. It’s hard to get out of a rut when you aren’t having fun. It was a learning year.”

“In between that great start and the amazing season last year, he had a streak that he wasn’t very happy with,” said assistant head coach and special teams coach Ed Lamb. “He’s been through the ups and downs of getting media attention and how that can be a distraction if taken in the wrong way. He’s just become a tough veteran player that the whole team trusts.”

Tide turned quickly for the Cougars

Oldroyd put his 2019 troubles behind him and last season he turned in one of the greatest kicking performances in BYU history by converting on all 13 of his attempts, including three of 50 yards or more.

In many ways, Oldroyd and Zach Wilson’s 2019 season mirrored each other where both struggled to perform and neither had locked down the starting job prior to 2020.

“In retrospect, I can see a lot of parallels,” said Oldroyd. “I can empathize with Zach. He took a lot of criticism and had a lot of doubters, and I can 100% relate to that.”

Each was tested with the quest to perform and win back the trust of the team. Interestingly, as Wilson’s numbers improved, so did Oldroyd’s.

“A lot of our field goal attempts in 2019 were after quarterback sacks and that can be hard on a kicker’s mentality,” Lamb said. “Instead of a 28-yard kick, suddenly it’s a 40-yard kick. Our offense did a much better job creating more fourth-and-short-yardage situations last season, which helped the kicking.”

Wilson’s bounce-back season earned him the second overall draft pick by the New York Jets. Oldroyd’s efforts attracted finalist honors for the Lou Groza Award as the nation’s top kicker. Along the way, they both won back the team.

“It totally changes the game with how we strategize when trust is a component,” said Oldroyd. “Trust is absolutely necessary. It’s one of the reasons I work so hard in the offseason.”

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Together, he and Wilson were nearly perfect, and while Wilson, Dax Milne, Isaac Rex and Tyler Allgeier were celebrating most of the touchdowns, Oldroyd quietly outscored each one of them.

“It’s comparing apples to oranges a little bit, but yes, the coaches and players wouldn’t put any stock into it, but it’s a cool thing to outscore Zach Wilson,” said Lamb.

Not only did Oldroyd’s 99 points lead the team (Wilson scored 60), but he also ranked No. 6 among FBS kickers in scoring and No. 13 overall. His 13-for-13 performance tied for No. 1 in field goal percentage.

“I’m trying to keep things realistic, but why not? Why not do it again?” Oldroyd said. “My goal is to make every kick.”

He hasn’t missed a field goal since the fourth quarter of the 2019 Hawaii Bowl, which he still defends as a questionable call by the referee. Oldroyd’s perfect 2020 performance and two field goals last week against has him one kick away from school history.

Owen Pochman made 15 consecutive field goals during the 1999 season. Oldroyd can pass him with a made kick Saturday night against No. 19 Arizona State at LaVell Edwards Stadium.

While Jake may be on a personal quest for perfection, it’s the job of his coaches, Gavin Fowler and Lamb, to keep him grounded.

“If we get in range for a kick, we talk about executing the plan,” said Lamb. “It’s not about being perfect as an individual, it’s about being perfect for the team, if possible.”

Oldroyd’s journey could make him the oldest kicker in college football before he is done. An injury cut short his 2016 season and he received a medical redshirt after three games.

Following a two-year mission to Osorno, Chile, for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he suited up for his official freshman year in 2019.

The NCAA ruled that the 2020 season wouldn’t count against any student-athlete’s eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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So, here in 2021, Oldroyd, who is engaged to marry Laney Udy, is closing in on his accounting and Spanish degrees and is listed as a sophomore.

Should he choose, he will be eligible to kick the Cougars into the Big 12 in 2023 and finish his college career at age 26, but if the NFL calls before then?

“He has all the tools,” said Lamb.

Dave McCann is a contributor to the Deseret News and is the studio host for “After Further Review,” co-host for “Countdown to Kickoff” and the “Postgame Show” and play-by-play announcer for BYUtv.

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