SALT LAKE CITY — Utah fans haven’t had to think about the kicking position in a long time.
Andy Phillips, who had never played football prior to Utah, took over the starting kicking job in 2013 — breaking school records, making 84% of his field goals and scoring 427 points by himself over his career. After Phillips graduated, Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham struck gold again, this time with Matt Gay, who in his first year won the Lou Groza Award given to the nation’s best kicker. Gay finished his two seasons at Utah with a field goal percentage of 86.15%.
This year, Utah's kicking position is not as much of a no-brainer as it was in previous years. The No. 1 kicker on the spring depth chart, Chayden Johnston, retired from football just after spring camp. In the Red-White spring game, Johnston missed his only field goal from 43 yards out and backup kicker Jadon Redding hit his only attempt from 31 yards out off the upright.
Heading into fall camp, the two kickers listed on Utah’s roster are Redding and UCLA transfer Andrew Strauch. Redding is the only kicker listed on the Utes’ fall camp depth chart, with the backup spot as TBD.
Redding, a walk-on who joined the team this spring, played high school football at Colonial Forge High School in Virginia, where he set area records for career field goals with 45. He also set a record for most career 50-yard field goals with two.
“It was no difference from a full-ride or a walk-on. I’m treated the same, I’ve got everything I’ve needed and coaches have no bias,” Redding said.
Redding says that while there was a transition period from high school football to college football, his teammates and coaches made it easier on him.
The other kicker on the roster, Strauch, is a transfer from UCLA. He is the only kicker on the roster with previous college kicking experience. Strauch, a senior, appeared in four games in 2016 as a placekicker. He was a perfect 9-for-9 on the season on extra points and 1-for-2 on field goals in the season, with his only field goal make of the year coming on a 39-yard field goal in a 52-45 loss to Utah.
“For me, it was just about what I wanted to do with my last year. The grad program I’m in here, the MRED (master of real estate development) program is incredible. It gave me a great opportunity to come to school here and get a degree, something I want to use in the future. From there, football was a bonus. I got to come to one of the best special teams in the country,” Strauch said.
Strauch, who moved to Utah in May, noted that he enjoys the hands-on coaching from Whittingham and special teams coordinator Sharrieff Shah.
“They’re there every meeting, everything we’re doing, always checking in on us and making sure we’re doing the right things to make sure we keep that name of Utah specialists going,” Strauch said.
After the first practice of fall camp, Shah said that there is still a long way to go until kickers start to separate themselves.
“When you get seven, eight practices with a lot of competition from various ranges and depth in order to determine who’s close to separating,” Shah said.
Shah said that he thinks both kickers "equally have a good approach," and that each kicker has a "nice pop off the ball." Whittingham said that the kickers did well on the first day of camp, with only one missed kick. Utah will increase the pressure on kickers throughout fall camp, with penalties such as team running for missed kicks.
Even with the clock ticking to see who will become the starting kicker ahead of Utah’s Aug. 29 matchup with BYU, both kickers just see it as healthy competition.
“Me and Andrew come out and we just have fun and help each other get better every day,” Redding said.
“I’ve been in a competition my whole life, so it’s no different. It’s just a matter of how you treat the guys, make sure you’re a team before anything. Best guy is going to play, and from there, it’s just being supportive and helping them do their best every single day,” Strauch said.