Everybody knows how former NBA star Allen Iverson feels about practice. He didn’t like it and preferred not to do it. But Iverson was never a college snapper, holder or kicker. In the game they play, practice is everything. It is where routines are perfected and where trust is built.

“Kalani (Sitake) pulled me aside at halftime and said ‘Keep your head up. We are going to need you.’ He said this was going to be a close game and we are going to be right in it.”— BYU kicker Skyler Southam

“The holder trusts the snapper, the kicker trusts the holder and both the snapper and holder trust the kicker to make the kick,” said former BYU holder Gavin Fowler. “The trust is more important than the routine.”

This may explain why, when it came to kicking a football, Charlie Brown and Lucy could never get it right and why Fowler, Mitch Harris (snapper) and Skyler Southam (kicker) pulled it off. But in their shining moment on a September Saturday in 2018, there was nothing routine about what was to become the biggest play of their lives.

The grand stage

BYU and No. 6 Wisconsin sat in a 21-21 tie early in the fourth quarter at a soldout Camp Randall Stadium (80,720) in Madison. The Badgers had just pulled even on a five-yard touchdown run by Taiwan Deal.

Cougars running back Squally Canada received a handoff on the first play following the ensuing kickoff and rumbled 46 yards downfield. An 11-yard toss from quarterback Tanner Mangum to receiver Gunner Romney put BYU in scoring position.

On fourth down, Southam, Fowler and Harris jogged onto the field together. Not only were the Cougars 23.5-point underdogs, but they were still licking their wounds from a 40-6 defeat at home to these same Badgers 364 days earlier.

Despite missing a 52-yard field goal in the second quarter, the special teams trio and their head coach remained confident that an upset was possible.

“Kalani (Sitake) pulled me aside at halftime and said ‘Keep your head up. We are going to need you,’” Southam said. “He said this was going to be a close game and we are going to be right in it.”

BYU kicker Skyler Southam smiles after nailing a go-ahead field goal during a game against Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis., on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018. | Steve Griffin, Deseret News

What happened next was a rookie mistake. During the halftime break, the freshman kicker sat at his locker and opened his phone to messages from upset fans about his missed kick. This never happened at Wasatch High in Heber, Utah, when Southam was ranked among the best prep kickers in the country.

“Being a kicker is a tough position. Fans are going to be on you when you don’t do well and praise you when you do,” Southam said. “I learned quickly that I can’t look at my phone at halftime.”

Southam, still amazed at the intensity of the game, the magnitude of the hostile crowd and the size of the stadium, leaned on his senior holder and junior snapper for strength in the second half.

“I had seen what (Skyler) could do every day in practice. I believed that every time we jogged onto the field, he was going to make the kick,” Fowler said. “He trusted Mitch and me to get the ball back and ready for him to do his job.”

In a card game, there is holding and folding. Kenny Rogers made a fortune singing about the importance of knowing the difference. A football game is no different, where teams can hold or fold in critical moments that separate winners from losers when the dealing is done.

For Fowler, prepped by thousands of hours of practice reps, he was seconds away from the most important “hold” of his career.

It’s go time

The time lapse between the snap, hold and kick is not much longer than a sneeze.

“Typically, your kicks can’t take longer from snap to kick than 1.4 seconds,” Fowler said. “If it takes longer, you are at high risk of getting blocked. The average is 1.32 seconds. Our goal was 1.3.”

BYU, Utah, Utah State announce early-season TV and kickoff details for 2023 football season
BYU’s ticket office is now selling football tickets for away games in its first Big 12 season
BYU has offers out to these 5 uncommitted quarterbacks in the 2024 class

The Cougars lined up and prepared to kick into the heart of the Wisconsin student section that hadn’t witnessed a home loss to a non-Big Ten team in 15 years. For Southam, it would be just his third collegiate kick and the longest since his pre-mission years at Wasatch.

“I remember looking back at him. He was as calm and collected as ever. It didn’t feel any different,” Fowler said. “You would expect to see shock in his eyes, but he looked the same as he did every day in practice.”

Fowler turned his head back to Harris and the offensive line and signaled for the snap — and that’s when things got interesting.

The kick

“We work on bad snaps, wet ball drills and different situations every day in practice,” Fowler said. “The idea that we could still execute a kick when things didn’t go perfectly wasn’t new for us.”

The snap from Harris was uncharacteristically far from perfect.

“The ball came out low, and on the ground,” Fowler said. “I had to pin it onto the turf and flip it up to where it needed to be.”

It was all happening in an instant, but Southam’s mind still found time to fear the worst.

“It’s hard for a holder to get the ball back up to where it’s kickable,” Southam said. “It messes up the rhythm. I stuttered a little, but at that point you just keep your head down, focus on the ball and swing through it as best you can.”

Fowler got the ball on the tee just as it was greeted by Southam’s right foot. Pigs don’t fly, but pigskins do and this one flew over the converging line of scrimmage and between the goal posts for a 45-yard field goal to give BYU a 24-21 lead with 9:58 to play.

“It was pretty awesome,” Southam reflected. “I didn’t have the career that I had 100% hoped for, but looking back, I’m so grateful for that moment.”

“I gave him a high-five and tapped him on the helmet like I always did,” Fowler said. “I wasn’t thinking about the snap.”

For Harris, the near-disaster was very much on his mind.

“I remember specifically that Mitch came over afterwards and gave me a big hug and said, ‘I love you!’” Fowler said with a laugh. “He knew immediately that the snap was off. We also didn’t know it would become the game-winner.”

Empathy and euphoria

Wisconsin responded with a drive to the BYU 24-yard line with 41 seconds to play.

If the inexperienced Southam resembled a scooter, Rafael Gaglianone was a Ferrari. The fifth-year senior trotted onto the field having made 19 of his last 21 field goals and was a preseason candidate for the Lou Groza Award as the nation’s top kicker.

Wisconsin kicker Rafael Gaglianone (27) reacts after he missed a field goal in the final seconds of game against BYU in Madison, Wis. | Morry Gash, Associated Press

The snap and hold were textbook, but as Gaglianone’s kick sailed wide left, the trio of Southam, Fowler and Harris leaped into the air to celebrate their now historic field goal that almost didn’t get off the ground.

“My initial thought was, I am very grateful that wasn’t me,” Southam said of Gaglianone’s miss. “I felt for him. It’s hard. You feel bad for the other kicker, but at the same time, I was so happy for the team, especially when reality sunk in that we had just defeated Wisconsin.”

Replacing Oldroyd

Jake Oldroyd supplanted Southam as BYU’s place kicker in 2019 and he finished last season as the Cougar’s all-time leading scorer. For the first time in years, the kicking game will look much different this fall as Oldroyd has graduated.

Boise State sophomore transfer Will Ferrin, freshman Mathias Dunn and sophomore Justen Smith enter summer workouts as the contenders to replace Oldroyd, who set a high bar, both on and off the field.

Special teams — especially placekicking — haven’t been that special in BYU’s spring camp

Fowler was Oldroyd’s holder going into 2016 before he suffered a season-ending injury. By the time Oldroyd returned from his church mission, Fowler was his coach.

“I think Jake will be extremely hard to replace and I think a lot of people will miss him and gain more of an appreciation for him this season. He is as talented a kicker as I’ve ever seen,” said Fowler, who coached the holders and kickers at BYU the last four seasons. “Our kickers coming up are good and capable, but Jake was very good. He will be missed, especially his leadership and work ethic, which people outside the locker room don’t get to see.”

Replacing Oldroyd will require the same laser focus and determination in practice that prepared his predecessor, Southam, to overcome a bad snap and deliver the kick of his life. The player that can show those same skills in fall camp will be the one booting the ball against Sam Houston on Sept. 2.

The blueprint for success is already in — practice can make perfect, and in the case of Southam, Fowler and Harris, it can also transform an imperfect moment into a perfect ending.

BYU head coach Kalani Sitake leaps into the air as he celebrates with BYU defensive back Austin Lee after a Wisconsin field goal sailed wide, giving the Cougars the victory at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis., on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018. | Steve Griffin, Deseret News

Dave McCann is a contributor to the Deseret News and is the studio host for “BYU Sports Nation Game Day,” “The Post Game Show,” “After Further Review,” and play-by-play announcer for BYUtv. He is also co-host of “Y’s Guys” at ysguys.com.