PROVO — Among the position battles that are flying under the radar during fall camp, at least to those outside the BYU football program, are those that involve the kicking game.
With the graduation of three-year starting punter Jonny Linehan, and the addition of freshman Skyler Southam, an Army All-American, and the addition of a rugby-style punter from Australia, Danny Jones, the competition has been intriguing.
Senior Rhett Almond, who has spent the past two seasons as the Cougars’ starting place kicker, is also vying for the starting punting job this season.
“Rhett has had some booming, 50-yard, five-plus hang time punts. That’s been probably the biggest surprise so far, his consistency as a punter,” said special teams coordinator Ed Lamb. “He’s always had that ability but he’s had double duty and had to fill in when we didn’t have a kicker that was good in the field goal area. He’s still working on his field goals.”
Last season, Almond booted 13 of 19 field goals, including a career-best 46-yarder at Fresno State, and he connected on 22 of 23 PATs. As a sophomore in 2016, he recorded the fourth-best all-time single-season field goal percentage, and he drilled a 19-yard game-winner against Toledo.
But the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Southam, who returned earlier this year from an LDS Church mission to Chile, has the edge in the race to be BYU’s No. 1 field goal kicker this fall, according to Lamb, while Andrew Mikkelsen will probably handle kickoffs.
“Skyler’s field goals right now are just super,” Lamb said. “He’s a total athlete. He was a three-sport athlete in high school and an accomplished player in multiple sports. He can run. He could actually play another position at BYU — maybe not a scholarship candidate but a guy that could play on the field and not embarrass himself. He was able to get (the ability to kick field goals) back very quickly.”
At Wasatch High, Southam nailed 114 of 116 PATs and 36 of 53 field goal attempts in four high school seasons. He also hit a career-long 53-yarder, and he scored a career-high 93 points as a senior.
Southam also holds the Utah record for most field goals in a single season with 20 in 2015. He averaged 46.8 yards per punt on 67 punts in his career, with a career-long 69-yarder.
Lamb traveled to Australia to find a rugby-style punter, and he found Jones, a 6-foot-4, 240-pound sophomore from Essendon, Australia. He signed with the Cougars in February and arrived in Provo in June.
Jones has never played in an organized football game before.
“Everything he’s learned to this point is from television about the game itself,” Lamb said. “He’s had an American football punting coach in Australia. He understands the details of that technique. But each team uses a different scheme, and he has to fit into our scheme and find out where the ball is supposed to go and where he’s supposed to stand. Danny shows a ton of promise at the punting position and he’s still learning. He understands the game of football in regard to what the punter does, but our scheme is something he needs to get more comfortable with.”
Last season, Linehan, who hails from New Zealand and was a star rugby player at BYU before joining the football program, averaged 42.9 yards per punt, including a long of 59 yards. He kicked 10 punts 50 yards or longer and had 26 downed inside the 20-yard line.
In addition to rugby punting, Jones is learning to punt in the traditional style.
“It’s the expected ratio of rugby-style punts versus traditional-style punts and how we use those two and based on his ability,” Lamb said. “He needs to prioritize his training in that way.”
Jones trained at Prokick Australia, which is where Lamb discovered Jones. As part of a growing trend, more and more Australian kickers are coming to the United States to play college football.
“When I went over there and saw their group of 20 or so players working out, it was unlike any group of 20 or so punters that I’ve seen in American football,” Lamb said.28 comments on this story
“If the college football punt rule stays the same, unless you legitimately have an NFL kicker, it makes no sense to kick in a traditional style. If Rhett keeps up what he has going, we’ll have a real battle and a decision to make. The consistency needs to be 48 yards and 4.8 hang time. That’s hard to obtain. … Right now, it’s neck and neck. I didn’t anticipate that. We’ve committed obviously to finding a rugby kicker. We want to be a rugby-style punt team. But the exception to that would be an exceptional traditional-style punter.”