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I definitely want to win. I’ve got myself to this point, I mean, I definitely want to finish it out and win that award. —Utah kicker Matt Gay

SALT LAKE CITY — Matt Gay had a lot of reasons to be nervous when coaches called his number in Utah’s first game of the season.

First, the Utes had opted to go with freshman Chayden Johnston in their first field goal try against North Dakota State.

Second, he hadn’t hit a field goal in a game since high school.

Third, as a Utah Valley University soccer player, he went from leading the team with seven goals and 18 points to starting just one game for the Wolverines.

So he walked on at Utah, hoping to revive the kicking career he thought he’d left behind when he accepted a scholarship at UVU, not many had expectations that he’d even be a starter, let alone a finalist for a national award.

Everyone, that is, but Matt Gay.

“Coming in? Yeah,” he said of whether or not he saw national honors as a possibility. “I mean, I was confident in my ability, in what I can do. So, I always wanted to be the best, and I want to put myself against the best, and I wanted this to work out.”

Gay said it feels good to have experts outside the program validating what he believed he was capable of when he asked local collegiate programs for an opportunity to compete for a job.

“I have high expectations of myself when I first came to Utah,” Gay said after Utah officials announced both he and punter Mitch Wishnowsky were finalists for national honors. “I mean, it just feels good to have your hard work and everything kind of pay off.”

Gay leads the nation in field goals made (25), while Wishnowsky is second in the nation in net punting (43.21 yards).

Wishnowsky said even though Johnston technically got the first opportunity at a field goal, he said they were both “phenomenal kickers.”

“I’m pretty sure it was pretty much 50-50,” he said. “It was just whoever took advantage and Chayden only missed by a hair on that first field goal.”

He said Gay’s secret weapon is his ability to shake off a mistake.

“It’s a very mental job,” he said. “You got to forget about your misses otherwise it will just take over your head. He’s very smart, very disciplined, and with him, like mentally, he’ll get over misses.”

While Wishnowsky isn’t surprised to see Gay named as a finalist for the Lou Groza Award, he was a bit surprised he was a finalist for the Ray Guy Award, even though he earned the award last season.

“It’s awesome,” he said. “I haven’t had as good a year as last year. I feel like I could have had a better year, so it’s a little surprising. But I’m honored to be a finalist this year.”

Gay called Wishnowsky the “best holder in the country” and said he’s grateful to the punter for “taking me under his wing.”

“(Mitch) does things right,” Gay said. “I mean, he’s always shown up on time, he’s never missed anything, and he’s a hard worker. He showed me how to do some things, and basically just been a good role model on how to work hard and how to find my way around the program.”

Gay believes Wishnowsky will repeat as the country’s best punter, and he’d like to be more than a finalist.

“I definitely want to win,” he said. “I’ve got myself to this point, I mean, I definitely want to finish it out and win that award. So I’m going to train hard this week, have a good weekend … and increase my chances of winning.”