They are responding. There is no complacency going on. They have to guard against it, there is no doubt about it, but both of those guys have taken steps forward this spring. —Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, on Mitch Wishnowsky and Matt Gay
SALT LAKE CITY — The goal in spring football for each Utah football player is simple — improvement.
“We just keep working to better ourselves, like everyone is doing,” quarterback Tyler Huntley said.
Spring practices afford each Ute the opportunity to hone in on specific parts of their craft, like technique and positioning, to name a few; parts of the game that sometimes go by the wayside as the season gets closer.
For some, improvement comes in leaps and bounds. For others, it comes in much smaller increments.
For 2017 First Team All-Pac-12 members Mitch Wishnowsky and Matt Gay, improvement is something else altogether.
After all, the pair of seniors were among the very best at their respective positions in the entire country last season.
Gay, a former soccer player and walk-on, took home the 2017 Lou Groza award, which is awarded to the best kicker in the country.
He led college football in field goals attempted (34), field goals made (30) and field goals converted per game (2.31).
Gay was especially effective from long distances, as he converted 19 tries that were 40 yards or more and eight tries longer than 50 yards.
Wishnowsky, meanwhile, was a finalist for the 2017 Ray Guy award, gifted to the nation’s best punter. While he didn’t win the award, that honor went to Texas’s Michael Dickson, Wishnowsky did take home the prize in 2016, as a sophomore.
On the surface, his average punt of 43.9 yards, good for 22nd among punters, wasn’t all that impressive. A closer look shows just why Wishnowsky was considered one of the three best punters in America, however.
Of his 52 punts, just three resulted in a touchback, 22 were fair caught, 16 were downed inside the 20-yard line, and 12 went 50 or more yards.
Simply put, Wishnowsky and Gay combined to give Utah one of, if not the best, kicking games in the sport.
“They are both high-accolade guys,” said Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham. “Lou Groza and Ray Guy award winners. They are two talented guys.”
Heading into the 2018-19 season, not a one of those facts matter.
“It is a new season. Nobody cares about that. It is in the past,” said Whittingham. “You have to prove yourself every single year and not rest on your laurels.”
His biggest concern about Wishnowsky and Gay was complacency.
“I wanted to see them not get complacent. To keep working on their craft, keep perfecting their craft,” said Whittingham “They are responding. There is no complacency going on. They have to guard against it, there is no doubt about it, but both of those guys have taken steps forward this spring.”
For Wishnowsky, improvement has been all about leg strength.
“During the season, you kind of look after your legs, manage everything you do. In spring ball, there is nothing to be fresh for, so I’m trying to get a lot of strength back in my legs,” said Wishnowsky. “I lift more. I punt more. I am pretty much just trying to get as much into my legs as I can and build them up before the season.”
As for Gay, spring football has been all about technique. Well that and preparing to take kickoffs next season.
“I have been working on my technique,” said Gay. “It is the little things that I am trying to get out of every single kick. Making sure I get good flight on the ball and good contact. Focusing down on my steps and making sure I am the same on each one. I just want to make sure that each kick is more and more of the exact same.
“I also want to get some strength. I have really worked on getting kickoffs down. I am going to try and plan on kicking off this year, so my main focus is making sure I get strength in my legs so I can kick off.”
While the result of their spring work may be hard to see come fall, it’ll be there, possibly evidenced by season-ending awards.
“There is always a way to improve what you are doing,” said Whittingham. “No doubt about that.”