It's not that often that University of Utah football players earn all-America honors and almost never do they do it two years in a row.
Louie Sakoda has that chance to become a rare two-time first-team all-American at the U.
The Utes' senior placekicker/punter earned some all-America honors last year and has been named to several preseason all-American teams this year.
Think about former Ute all-Americans and nearly every one was honored in his senior season, from Luther Elliss to Jordan Gross to Eric Weddle. Two exceptions were quarterback Lee Grosscup, who was honored as a junior in 1957, but not as a senior, Alex Smith, who was honored as a junior, but turned professional. The only player to be a first-team all-Amerian twice was another punter/placekicker, Marv Bateman, in 1970-71.
Already this year, Sakoda has been named a preseason all-American by Athlon Magazine, Lindy's and Phil Steele's College Football Preview and is on the Ray Guy and Lou Groza watch lists. Last year, Sakoda won first-team all-America honors by the Football Writers Association and CBSSports.com as a punter and by Rivals.com as a kicker. He's also a two-time Mountain West Conference Special Teams Player of the Year.
All of the awards and preseason hype aren't going to Sakoda's head. He said it's not putting any additional pressure on him.
"People ask if it puts any extra pressure on you with all the extra accolades," he said. "I've always felt it sets the bar high and I've set the bar even higher for my senior year. If I don't work as hard as I can, how am I going to reach that standard? I'm taking the same approach this season."
Sakoda is a soft-spoken, humble individual, but he's honest enough to admit he enjoys the attention, especially for the special teams.
"Obviously it's nice to get the recognition and to show how important the special teams really is," he said. "Special teams win a lot of games as it's been shown in recent years. I want to be the guy that goes in there and the coaches know that I'll do my job and we'll get things done."
Sakoda has handled punting duties for the Utes since his freshman season when he averaged 37.1 yards. He improved to 44.0 as a sophomore and 44.3 last year with 30 and 28 inside the 20, respectively.
Not only is Sakoda one of the top punters in the country, he's also one of the top placekickers.
As a sophomore, he made all 43 PAT attempts and 16 of 20 field goals with a long of 45 yards. Last year, he made 38 of 40 PATs and 19 of 22 field goals with a long of 51.
"He's very reliable a great weapon to have on the football team," said Ute coach Kyle Whittingham. "He's as good as anyone in the country in pinning opponents inside the 20-yard line. The field-goal phase of his game is very dependable. He's one of the rare dual kicking threats in the country."
So how does Sakoda handle both the punting and placekicing duties and do them both so well?
"It's tough to juggle," he said. "It's tough not to overkick when you're training for both. You have to refine your technique and limit yourself. So that's one thing I've really been working on is less physical kicks and more putting myself in the mindset that every kick is a Michigan kick so that my job will be easier when I get in there."
With all of his talent and credentials, Sakoda could very well find himself kicking in the NFL next year."That's always the ultimate goal, that would be nice," he said. "But I'm just taking it one step at a time. I want to finish my senior year strong and we'll take it from there."
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