Utah Utes football notebook: Sophomore Tom Hackett leads Pac-12 in punting

Published: Sunday, Oct. 4 2015 2:31 p.m. MDT

Utah Punter Tom Hackett celebrates a good punt as Utah and Stanford play Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013 at Rice Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) Utah Punter Tom Hackett celebrates a good punt as Utah and Stanford play Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013 at Rice Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Although Utah sophomore Tom Hackett leads the Pac-12 with 43.1 yards per punt, it’s not something he really values.

“It doesn’t mean anything to me to be honest with you. I don’t really pay much attention to it,” Hackett said. “I just go out on gameday, play my role for the team.”

The 21-year-old Australian downplays what he does. Kicking a ball is not very big, he added, so how hard can it be?

“So if I’m leading the conference, then I’m leading the conference. But I can’t let that bug me,” Hackett said. “If I start reading into all that then I’m sure I’ll go downhill pretty quick.”

Besides, Hackett insists his focus is on team success first and foremost.

“Obviously getting the ‘W’ is more important than me leading the conference,” he explained. “But if I can do my job to the best of my ability, then that’s all I can do and ask of myself. If I’m leading the conference with four games to go then I’m doing my job reasonably well. But there’s definitely still work to be done.”

The measuring stick?

“If I’m not leading the nation then there’s always room for improvement,” Hackett said. “So conference is one thing but you know, in the big spectrum of it, all the nation is what really matters and until I reach the top, then there’s always work to be done.”

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham is pleased with Hackett’s performance this season. He tops the Pac-12 with 19 punts inside the 20-yard line and 11 punts of 50 yards or longer.

“He’s doing a very good job,” said Whittingham, who noted that the bottom line is net punting — a category he leads the conference in at 39.3 yards.

“Right now we’re No. 1 in the Pac-12 in net punt and that’s a product of him punting the ball very well and the coverage unit getting down and covering,” Whittingham said. “There’s a lot that goes into that.”

As for Hackett’s aspirations to top the country, Whittingham emphasized that it’s all about net punt numbers.

“It’s a good category to lead the nation in because the punt game is huge in the field position battle,” he said.

BYE WEEK BUSINESS: Whittingham said the coaching staff is hitting the recruiting trail this weekend.

“Our guys will get out Thursday, Friday and Saturday,” said Whittingham, who explained that the primary positions of recruitment include wide receiver, safety and cornerback.

In other bye week news, the Utes are dedicating the last part of practices this week to the developmental squad.

“It’s something we try to do each bye week. It’s not just unique to this one,” Whittingham said. “We try to get the young guys some extra work.”

Whittingham said quarterbacks Conner Manning and Brandon Cox were among the standouts. He also noted the play of defensive ends Jason Fanaika and Felipo Mokofisi, as well as the offensive line in general.

ON THE MEND: Utah quarterback Travis Wilson has been throwing without a protective glove on his banged-up throwing hand, which he reports is on the mend.

“It’s feeling a lot better. I feel like I’m really spinning the ball like I have been and it’s getting a lot better,” said Wilson, who added that he’s determined to get back to his old ways before the injury.

Wilson will continue getting treatment throughout the week in hopes of being 100 percent before next week’s game against 25th-ranked Arizona State.

“I’m really encouraged,” Wilson said. “I think our trainers have done a great job of taking care of me. I’ve just got to make sure it stays healthy.”

Whittingham acknowledged that Wilson is throwing the ball a lot better this week and is hopeful by Monday that the injuries to his hand will “be a complete non-factor.”

NO SURRENDER: Defensive end/linebacker Trevor Reilly dismissed any notion that the Utes are just counting on getting season-ending wins over Washington State and Colorado to become bowl eligible, even though nationally ranked Arizona State and Oregon are up next on the schedule.

They want to prevail in all of them.

“That’s part of being a competitor. You want to win every game,” Reilly said. “In the words of (Herm Edwards): ‘You play to win the game.’ So we look at it as every game is the end of our season, basically.”

EXTRA POINTS: Whittingham said the Utes got some good work in Wednesday and got started on the Arizona State game plan. ... Reilly and wide receiver Dres Anderson are both tied for second in the nation in a statistical category — Reilly in fumble recoveries with three and Anderson in receptions of 50 yards or longer with five. ... No word on the status of tight end Westlee Tonga, who has missed four straight games with an undisclosed injury. “We’re still waiting,” Whittingham said. “We’ll see where he is on Monday."

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