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Michael Brandy, Deseret News
Louie Sakoda

Louie Sakoda has been getting into the swing of things throughout the offseason. Utah's All-America punter/kicker is preparing for the upcoming campaign by reading books about how golfers deal with pressure situations.

The techniques they use in terms of a mental approach, Sakoda explained, has helped with his kicking.

And that's not all.

Sakoda thinks it's something that can be applied to pretty much anything.

"I've always taken pride in being mentally tough," Sakoda said. "At this point in the game what really separates the best players is their mental game, and that's really what I've been focusing on in this offseason."

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham isn't surprised, even if it does involve golf.

"He's always looking to make himself better. That's what the great ones do," Whittingham said. "They're always trying to find a way to get better. So that does not surprise me that he's studying that."

Quarterback Brian Johnson isn't taken aback by it, either.

"Louie is a very intelligent guy. It really doesn't surprise me at all. He's just trying to stay sharp.

Anything he can do to gain an edge he'll do that," Johnson said. "That's just his personality. It's just the personality he has and the way he goes about preparing himself."

After earning All-America accolades as a junior, Sakoda thinks he has room to improve as a senior.

"I still feel like I've got a ways to go. I feel like everybody should kind of have that mentality," Sakoda said. "As soon as a player feels like they've arrived they seem to go downhill after that."

And that, plain and simply, is just not how the two-time Mountain West Conference Special Teams Player of the Year rolls.

"Louie Sakoda is a student of the game. There's no question about that," Whittingham said. "He's a very driven, focused young man — and shoot — the results speak for themselves. He's done a great job kicking for us."

Besides closing in on several school records, Sakoda is building quite a resume. He's now a team captain and will join Johnson in representing the Utes at the MWC's annual football meetings in Las Vegas next week.

"Louie is very well received by his teammates. In fact, he's one of the more popular guys on the team," said Whittingham, who added that many of Sakoda's best friends are offensive lineman — a rare union, to say the least.

"He's definitely one of the guys," said Johnson, who has never been on a team where a kicker has been one of the captains before. "He has the respect of the guys."

Even better, Johnson continued, is Sakoda is a tremendous competitor who wants to be the best.

"Louie is a team guy. As well as he's done individually, all he's really concerned about is the success of the team," Whittingham said.

"He's the kind of guy you want on your football team. Those guys that have that attitude. He epitomizes that."

When asked about his goals this season, Sakoda reeled off a couple of things. "Annihilating" BYU topped the list. Silencing the large season-opening crowd in Michigan was also mentioned.

So, too, was an even bigger prize.

"Being able to play a bowl game in January would be nice," said Sakoda, who believes the Utes are ready to do something big this season. "I'll do my part, but that definitely comes second to our team goals."

Utah's opportunity for success, however, is greatly enhanced by Sakoda's skills. Johnson admits it can alter the mindset of the offense knowing what you can do to put points on the board.

"We use Louie as a crutch sometimes, you get inside the 40 and you've got three points. It can kind of change the way you think as a quarterback — make you not force the ball downfield on third-and-long into a bad play," Johnson said. "Just take the short pass and get Louie a couple of extra yards, and he'll knock it through."

As a kicker, though, Sakoda feels the constant need to continually get better and fight to earn the respect of his teammates.

Even with a bevy of honors coming his way, Sakoda takes his accomplishments with a grain of salt. He's far from satisfied.

However, since his career success has exceeded his own expectations to a degree, Sakoda admits he's trying to join things to an extent — awards included.

"I can definitely appreciate them. Being able to stay modest; being able to stay grounded; and stay focused on what you have to do is half the battle," Sakoda said. "It's definitely cool that I can show friends from back home (in San Jose, Calif.), family and all that stuff; hey, look what I've been able to do over here. It's definitely going to be something that will be cool to look back on."

Until then ...

"It's not over yet," Sakoda said. "I've still got more to accomplish."

Louie Sakoda

Utah punter/kicker

Senior (5-9, 178)

Hometown: San Jose, Calif.

ACCOLADES:• 2007 First-team All-America punter (Football Writers Association of America, CBSSports.com)• 2007 First-team All-America place kicker (Rivals.com)• 2007 Second-team All-America punter (SI.com)• Ray Guy and Lou Groza award candidate• 2006 and 2007 Mountain West Conference Special Teams Player of the Year• Seven-time MWC Special Teams Player of the Week• 2006 Armed Forces Bowl MVP• Utah career field-goal percentage leader (83 percent)• 17 career punts downed inside the 5-yard line• Ranks first among active dual punter/kickers in career punts and punt yards• Three-time academic all-conference honoree (3.7 cumulative GPA in business)• Utah Student Athlete Advisory Committee member

E-mail: [email protected]