PROVO While BYU has two talented placekickers vying for the starting job, it may be overblown to call it a "kicker controversy."
For coach Bronco Mendenhall, it's a problem he likes to have. The way he sees it, both sophomore Mitch Payne and true freshman Justin Sorensen will see plenty of playing time this season.
Cougar coaches have been tracking every kick by Payne and Sorensen since the opening day of fall camp, and not much separates the two. But, Mendenhall said, Payne might hold an edge.
"Today, without looking at the numbers, my guess is that Mitch has a slight lead," Mendenhall said after Wednesday's scrimmage. "Mitch appears to be more consistent."
The coach is hoping to name a starter sometime next week, just days before BYU opens the season at home against Northern Iowa. However, Mendenhall points out that both kickers have their strengths.
Payne has a year of experience, though he played the entire year with a painful groin injury. Now, he's healthy.
"Fall camp is a fun time for kickers," Payne said. "I feel like my hard work is paying off."
Sorensen, a prep All-American, kicked a state-record 62-yard field goal for Bingham High last season. However, Sorensen suffered an ankle injury last January that prevented him from kicking until June, and the lack of work during the off-season has affected his consistency during fall camp. Still, Sorensen is feeling comfortable kicking at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
Following his first scrimmage at the stadium, he said, "It was a little scary. It was the first time I had ever kicked in there. It's a special place, but it was a little nerve-wracking to be in there as a freshman. It was a cool experience."
During Wednesday's scrimmage, Payne and Sorensen took turns kicking field goals from various ranges. Payne connected from 30, 40, 49 and 56 yards. Sorensen hit field goals from 30 and 56 yards and missed from 40 and 49. Both players missed on attempts from 63 yards .
One way or another, Mendenhall plans on Payne and Sorensen contributing on special teams. "I'm expecting to use both of them, based on situation," he said.
Sorensen is expected to handle kickoffs. He drilled a kickoff eight yards deep into the end zone during Wednesday's scrimmage, and, more than ever, that ability is at a premium. A new NCAA rule states that if the kicking team kicks the ball out of bounds on a kickoff, the receiving team has the choice of receiving another kickoff or taking the ball first-and-10 at the 40-yard line instead of the 35-yard line.
Said Mendenhall: "When you consider Justin, even watching him kick the ball off, knowing that if you kick the ball out of bounds, where the ball is going to start in terms of scoring and for every yard of field position that an opponent gains on a return their chances of scoring goes up, that part of it, even if he's not the field goal kicker, is a huge asset to our team."
Mendenhall is optimistic about Sorensen's propensity to send kickoffs deep into the end zone and preventing returns."I hope that's what we're practicing running down and watching the ball go out of the end zone," he said. "We'll practice doing that. That's my hope."