SALT LAKE CITY — Andy Phillips is making it look easy.
The Utah kicker, who never played football at any level before this season, has made all 11 field goals and 27 PATs that he has attempted. His performance through six games has netted the 24-year-old freshman midseason All-America recognition from ESPN.com. He also garnered Pac-12 Special Teams Player of the Week honors after making two kicks and three extra points in the Utes’ 27-21 upset of fifth-ranked Stanford last Saturday.
“It’s a huge honor. It’s really cool to read,” Phillips said. “But at the same time, I think as much (as) I’m putting the ball through the uprights it’s the whole field goal unit that’s doing an amazing job — from snap to hold to kick.”
The former U.S. ski team racer added that without teammates like holder Tom Hackett and snapper Chase Dominguez he couldn’t make his kicks.
“As easy as it seems there’s a lot of work that goes into it to make it seem flawless,” said Phillips, who noted that a lot of it is mental.
Proper preparation, he added, also includes a lot of conditioning and film study — things most people don’t see.
Physically, Phillips put himself on the fast track by spending summer days kicking 100-plus balls. He acknowledged it probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do, but felt the repetitions were needed.
Then, there’s the emotional aspect of kicking.
“That’s probably where it’s been the toughest,” said Phillips, who admitted that he was really fired up and mad that he wasn’t able to make a tackle on a 100-yard kickoff return by Stanford’s Ty Montgomery.
Regaining his composure in order to make a PAT or field goal, Phillips said, was difficult.
“That’s probably been the hardest part — making that adjustment from controlling your emotions,” he explained.
Phillips, though, is doing just fine in that regard. Midway through his first season, he’s made more field goals (11) without a miss than any other kicker in the nation.
“That’s as good as you can get. He’s done a great job for us. He’s perfect on his PATs as well and we just hope it continues,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “We’ve got the second half of the season and we’re going to need him to come up big in some of these games just like he has already.”
As the Utes (4-2, 1-2) prepare to face Arizona (3-2, 0-2) Saturday in Tucson, Ariz. Whittingham made it clear that they’re elated about what Phillips has done thus far.
“He's just been lights out and that's something that's been a big difference for us,” Whittingham said. “It's made a big difference in the complexion of the games and I hope it continues.”
Things have gone so well, in fact, that Whittingham joked that the Utah coaching staff would no longer go to soccer fields in search of kickers while recruiting.
“We’ve got to go to the slopes to try to find those guys,” he said.
Whittingham credits special teams coordinator Jay Hill for coaching Phillips up and helping him develop. Things really accelerated in fall camp and continued as the season kicked off.
“He’s transitioned very well and as long as he continues to practice the right way, and watch film the right way, and work on his technique the way he’s supposed to, I expect the same results to continue,” Hill said. “He’s been a pleasant surprise. We expect him to continue it.”
Consistency over time, Hill added, is what will make Phillips a great kicker like former Utah All-American Louie Sakoda.
Phillips and Sakoda have formed a bond. Although they didn’t meet face-to-face until a five-minute conversation last Friday, the kickers have connected electronically.
“Before my first game I actually emailed Louie,” Phillips said. “It was a long email asking him for tips and just different things he did to have success and he was kind enough to write back a really long email.”
Phillips also wrote Sakoda before the BYU game and asked him about how he handled pressure and stuff like that. Phillips credits Sakoda for showing support and helping him prepare by answering his questions.
When they met, Sakoda praised Phillips for doing a nice job, being prepared and having his mind right.
The feedback has been helpful as Phillips seeks to fill the role Sakoda had with the program.
“I aspire to be that good and to be that consistent,” he said. “That’s what wins games every now and then.”
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