PROVO — Yes, being away for two years serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can actually benefit some athletes.
Take the case of BYU kicker Jake Oldroyd, for example, whose mission service to Chile has benefitted him greatly as he contends to help out this year's Cougar football team on two fronts.
“Just having those two years helped out tremendously,” Oldroyd said. “I had some back problems, but those are all fixed now. I feel completely healthy now, so being away for those two years was definitely a blessing.”
Oldroyd was BYU's primary placekicker for the start of 2016 and saw a lot of early success, before back problems ultimately got the better of him, forcing him to the bench for the majority of the season. He left for his mission service with his future somewhat in doubt until those two years away worked wonders on his persistent back problems.
Since coming home last December, the Southlake, Texas native has hit the ground running.
“It didn’t take very long because I worked a lot on flexibility and core training while I was gone,” Oldroyd said of reacclimating himself to kicking. “So coming back it was an easy transition because I had a lot of that flexibility.”
All of it has helped him in what is turning out to be one of the closest position battles this fall, with Oldroyd competing neck-and-neck with Skyler Southam for kicking duties.
“It’s fun to have someone to compete with,” Oldroyd said. “Skyler is very talented and very good, and we’re good friends, so it makes the competition fun. We’re obviously competitive, but also want one another to do well.”
As for special teams coach Ed Lamb, he's enjoyed watching his two options at kicker progress and push each other as he charts their respective performances during each practice session.
“There’s a lot of charting and more emphasis when there’s 22 guys on the field rather than when it’s just them by themselves kicking,” Lamb said. “Scrimmages are the clutch time when we want to see them perform under more and more pressure.”
The option is open for Lamb to use both kickers this season, whether it be one specifically for kickoffs and one for field goal attempts, or even dividing it between who proves more effective in certain field goal distances.
“It’s not like we go in saying there’s a competition for short-yardage or long-yardage, but if one guy proves more accurate short, but struggles from long-distance, then we may go that direction,” Lamb said. “We never used it, but we had that on our depth chart back in 2016.”
As mentioned, Oldroyd is competing on two different fronts, with the possibility of him becoming the team's starting punter very much a reality. Although he didn't focus on punting at all at BYU prior his mission service, he's taken the initiative to do as much upon his return.
“He just did it on his own,” Lamb said. “He saw there was a need and started punting and really working on improvements there. It’s been a big help to us and he has a real chance to help us out in both. So I’m really thankful for him and his foresight and his work to help out the team wherever he can.”
Oldroyd's primary competition at punter is from Danny Jones, who has shown some good strides, according to Lamb.
“I like Danny’s mental approach and his improvements,” Lamb said. “His accuracy and his ability to run the ball are his two big advantages and he’s in a battle right now with Jake primarily for that spot.”
BYU defensive back Jared Kapisi is also competing for the starting punter position.