SALT LAKE CITY — Utah junior Matt Gay won the Lou Groza Award as the nation’s top kicker at the Home Depot College Football Awards Show Thursday night.
Gay, who leads the nation with a school-record 27 field goals made (with five from distances greater than 50 yards), received the award at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta.
“First of all, I thought it was a no-brainer. I think he’s hands-down the best kicker in the country,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, who attended the show. “He was obviously important to our team this year.”
Gay is Utah’s first Lou Groza Award winner and second finalist for the honor. Louie Sakoda (2008) was the other. Gay joined the Utes last summer as a walk-on after serving an LDS Church mission to Houston and playing soccer for two season at Utah Valley University.
“What more can I say other than, you know, he kind of fell into our lap there and we’re grateful he did,” Whittingham said.
The junior, who had not played football since his senior year at Orem High, won the award over other finalists Daniel Carlson of Auburn and Dominik Eberle of Utah State. Gay is the third consecutive Pac-12 kicker to receive the accolade — joining UCLA’s Ka’imi Fairbairn (2015) and Arizona State’s Zane Gonzalez (2016).
“It is fantastic. It’s surreal. I mean it’s an awesome feeling,” Gay said. “Just to hear your name called ... that was something special.”
Gay wasn’t sure how the whole process worked and what the voters looked for. He also noted there were some good kickers he was going up against.
“I knew I had good numbers and my stats were there, so I was thinking I had a decent chance,” Gay said as he celebrated with family and friends at dinner.
Utah earned additional recognition at the gathering. Gay and punter Mitch Wishnowsky were named Walter Camp All-Americans. Both juniors made the second team.
“We feel like we have the best specialists, collectively, in the country,” Whittingham said. “We have the best one-two punch with Matt and Mitch and the best thing is they’ll be back next year. So that’s going to be a big plus for our program.”
Gay considered it an honor to earn such recognition with a teammate.
“I don’t know how many teams in the nation have a punter-kicker combo that get some awards like that,” Gay said. “Mitch is probably one of my best friends on the team and he kind of took me under his wing. So to see him have some success and to be able to have him kind of coach me and show me the ropes on some things and be able to have some success myself, I mean, it’s an honor to be with that guy.”
Wishnowsky came up short in his bid to repeat as the Ray Guy Award winner. Michael Dickson of Texas edged out fellow finalists Wishnwosky and J.K. Scott of Alabama for top honors.
Utah had won three straight Ray Guy Awards. Tom Hackett was the winner in 2014 and 2015. Wishnowsky prevailed in 2016.
Whittingham said it was a tribute to Wishnowsky and the season he had to be in position to keep the streak going.
“He’ll be competing again for it next year I’m sure,” Whittingham said.