Special teams — especially placekicking — haven’t been that special in BYU’s spring camp
BYU’s 3 kickers in the running to replace Jake Oldroyd got off to shaky starts in 2023 spring camp
No doubt about it, BYU’s football team will have one of the best punters in the country, perhaps the best, in 6-foot-6, 235-pound blaster Ryan Rehkow.
The Cougars’ kicker in 2023 as they enter the Big 12?
Barring a turnaround of noteworthy proportions, not so much.
“Today was the first day we have missed a kick in three days, so very encouraged by that. They were 100% yesterday, 100% the day before. And so it has turned into a really good competition, and I think we got three really good guys that are competing for the job right now.” — BYU special teams coordinator Kelly Poppinga
Hot-and-cold kicker Jake Oldroyd — mostly hot until last season’s travails — has moved on, forgoing his final year of eligibility to either give the NFL a shot or enter the working world, and the battle to be his replacement has, frankly, been a cause for concern among BYU faithful who have witnessed the majority of spring practices.
Although coach Kalani Sitake and special teams coordinator Kelly Poppinga said the placekicking has improved significantly the past few practices, there have been a lot of missed field goals, particularly at the end of selected practices viewed by media members.
At this juncture of the offseason, three guys are in the running to be Oldroyd’s replacement: returning redshirt sophomore Justen Smith, Boise State transfer Will Ferrin and Matthias Dunn, a recently returned missionary from Heber City’s Wasatch High.
Dunn, wearing No. 97, only recently was added to BYU’s spring roster; former walk-on kicker Cash Peterman, a kickoff specialist in 2022, was removed because he’s in the transfer portal.
Presumably, Smith, Ferrin and Dunn will get a chance to show what they can do Friday when BYU conducts an open practice and/or scrimmage at 3 p.m. at LaVell Edwards Stadium, weather permitting. Also open to the public, the annual alumni game will follow at 5 p.m.
Rehkow’s younger brother Landon, a 5-foot-11, 170-pound freshman, is listed as both a kicker and a punter on the spring roster, but hasn’t attempted any field goals during the media-viewing windows at camp.
Wednesday, Smith and Ferrin missed end-of-practice field goal attempts, while Dunn made his try from the same distance.
“Today was the first day we have missed a kick in three days, so very encouraged by that,” Poppinga said Wednesday, after a windy outdoors practice. “They were 100% yesterday (during a 95-play scrimmage), 100% the day before. And so it has turned into a really good competition, and I think we got three really good guys that are competing for the job right now.”
After Saturday’s closed-to-the-media practice/scrimmage inside the IPF, Sitake said the kicking “was much better than it has been, and it was nice to see our kicker in a two-minute situation kick some (game-winning) field goals today, and I thought it was really nice. Sorry you guys didn’t get to see it.”
So there’s hope, apparently.
Asked about the kicking shakiness after Wednesday’s practice, Sitake said the “competition is really strong” but nobody has set himself apart yet, except for Ryan Rehkow. The fifth-year punter’s leg has been so lively this spring that he has to take it down a notch so his punts don’t hit the ceiling in the IPF.
“We will name a starter for the placekicking duties whenever they win it out,” Sitake said.
However, moments earlier, Poppinga had said he won’t divulge the name of the starting kicker to the media until the week before the season opener Sept. 2 against Sam Houston.
“I have told the kickers the same thing, that the job is open up until the last week,” Poppinga said. “And that is being fair to those guys. The competition started the first day of spring ball; there will be a guy leading the way going into fall camp, but the competition will continue all the way through fall camp. The week before the first game we will name a starter, based upon the numbers.”
Poppinga and Sitake both agreed that one of the three will be up for the job and that they won’t need to conduct an open tryout or look into the transfer portal for an adequate replacement for Oldroyd, who finished his career at BYU as the No. 1 scorer in school history with 338 points. Oldroyd made 50 of 68 field goal attempts (73.5%) and 188 of 192 PATs (97.9%).
BYU would take those numbers from its next kicker in a heartbeat.
Smith, the walk-on from Brighton High, has made 3 of 4 career FG attempts, with a long of 40 in 2021 when Oldroyd was either injured or in a slump.
“Percentages (in practice), for sure,” Poppinga said when asked about the criteria for winning the job. “That’s what we will go off.”
Added Sitake, when pressed about the plethora of early-camp misses: “We just need points on the board, and I trust K-Popp to get that done. So far, we are seeing a lot of great competition, a lot of improvement.”
Other phases of BYU football’s third phase
Regarding BYU’s special teams as a whole, Poppinga — hired last December to replace Ed Lamb — said they are “coming along” and eager to get outside and work on their craft more. The Cougars have been out of the IPF for only three of 11 practices to date.
“It is a work in progress, for sure,” Poppina said. “But yeah, there is a lot of buy-in right now with the guys, which is great. And I feel like we have some (kickoff and punt) returners that we haven’t had in the past.”
The probable punt returner is returnee Hobbs Nyberg, who had a pair of 42-yard punt returns last year against Notre Dame and Utah Tech.
Poppinga said running backs Miles Davis and Hinckley Ropati and freshmen receivers Parker Kingston and Koa Eldredge are candidates to be kickoff returners. On signing day, Poppinga said he was looking for a dynamic game-changer to return kicks. Has he found one?
“Oh yeah, I think there are a couple really good guys,” he said. “I think Ropati, more than what people think, he can be a pretty dynamic dude. And I have always liked running backs back there. If you guys think back to guys like Adam Hine — probably the last great kick returner that we had here. He was pretty dynamic in what he could do. I kinda look at Ropati in the same way.”
Long-snapper Austin Riggs, a junior, returns to maintain the excellence he has established at that spot.
As for kick coverage teams, Poppinga said they will have to be athletic and well-prepared to face the outstanding speed that most Big 12 teams possess.