Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News
Utah kicker Louis Sakoda

Louie Sakoda has done it again.

The junior, who is Utah's kicker and punter, was named Mountain West Conference Special Teams Player of the Year for the second consecutive season.

"Well-deserved. He had another exceptional year — both place-kicking and punting," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "We feel he's one of the best in the country as a dual-threat kicker."

Sakoda also netted top conference honors for his punting (44.8 yards per kick). He was joined on the first team by strong safety Steve Tate (97 tackles) and defensive end Martail Burnett (14 tackles-for-loss, seven sacks).

"It was good to see those two seniors get recognized," Whittingham said. "Both of them had all-conference caliber years."

Tate and Burnett were part of a defense that ranked among the nation's best in several categories.

"Coming into this season nobody really gave us a chance. Being a captain of that defense I really took it upon myself to step up and show the conference what our defense is all about," Tate said. "I think we had a pretty solid defense all year — finishing in the top five in the nation in some areas. This individual award is a reflection of how well our defense did."

Defensive tackle Gabe Long (6.5 tackles-for-loss) and cornerback Brice McCain (11 pass breakups) were second-team selections — as was punt returner Derrek Richards (15.0 yards) and Sakoda, as a kicker (33-of-35 PATs, 19-of-22 field goals).

Utah's offense was shut out on the first team but placed tailback Darrell Mack (1,128 yards rushing), left tackle Zane Beadles (37 knockdowns) and right guard Robert Conley (40 pancake blocks) on the second.

The Utes led the league with 10 players earning first- or second-team recognition. Six are juniors or sophomores.

"I think we were well represented. We have a lot of underclassmen that got recognized, which is a positive," Whittingham said. "It means we've got some young players in the program that people think are pretty good ball players.

"Even though we didn't get as many first-team, all-conference guys as we would have hoped," he added. "I think we were still fairly well represented."

Free safety Robert Johnson (38 tackles), defensive end Paul Kruger (53 tackles), linebacker Stevenson Sylvester (80 tackles) and Richards, as a wide receiver (53 catches), were named honorable mention.

Johnson and Sylvester are sophomores, while Kruger is a redshirt freshman.

"I think it's just a nice thing," Whittingham said of the awards. "It recognizes a player for what he's accomplished over the course of a season."

The MWC teams are chosen by the league coaches and a media panel.

Utah finished the regular season 8-4 overall and 5-3 in conference play. The Utes will face Navy (8-4) in the Poinsettia Bowl on Dec. 20 in San Diego.

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