SALT LAKE CITY — At the conclusion of the Utes mock run-through of a game Friday morning at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham was asked about the team’s two-deep roster.
The inquiry was expected.
Friday marked the end of fall camp, at least as far as media observation goes (the Utes will have their MUSS-exclusive scrimmage Saturday morning) and the veteran head coach was ready with an answer in hand.
“We will release the two-deep next week,” said Whittingham. “Sometime before the end of it. We are on the fence with some positions, which is why it’s not out yet, but we are still 13 days out.”
There are, however, at the very least two positions that have been finalized — punter and kicker.
Truth be told, Matt Gay and Mitch Wishnowsky need no introduction.
The Lou Groza (2017) and Ray Guy (2016) award winners have had their lives laid bare for the world to see.
That includes Gay’s journey from soccer player to football star, with depression, injury and other life-altering happenings along the way, as well as Wishnowsky’s tale of a high school dropout turned Australian glazier turned 23-year-old college freshman turned world-class punter.
The Ute duo has been so successful and subsequently recognized for that success — both are on the preseason award watch lists at their respective positions and have made history up on the hill — that during spring ball Whittingham’s biggest and practically sole concern for them was complacency.
“I wanted to see them not get complacent,” Whittingham told the Deseret News. “To keep working on their craft, keep perfecting their craft. 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.”
That sentiment applied to fall camp as well, though both Gay and Wishnowsky entered the month and a half-long preseason with specific ideas of how they hoped to improve.
Gay wanted to take over kickoff duties (which have yet to be decided). He wanted to improve his leg strength and his technique to the point that he would take over for Wishnowsky.
Wishnowsky, for his part, wanted to diversify his game and add dimensions to his punts that were previously lacking.
At the conclusion of fall camp, the results are mostly positive.
“Fall camp has been good,” said Gay. “I worked all spring and summer to get my leg strength up (he drilled two field goals from 60 yards out during Utah’s Aug. 11 scrimmage) and worked on some kickoff technique. I have definitely improved, but still have some work to do.
“I’m not exactly where I want to be. There are still a few things that I need to change up and get better at, but hopefully I’ll improve and get that opportunity to take that (kickoff) position in the games. The chance to be that guy.”
“I’ve been working on base balls (a more fundamentally American-style of punting as opposed to Australian), adding a new dimension to my game,” Wishnowsky added. “I feel good about it. I feel good going into the season. I feel strong and I am happy with how I am hitting and driving the ball.”
Behind Gay and Wishnowsky on the depth chart are Chayden Johnston, of South Jordan and Preston Pitt, of Centerville.
Barring something catastrophic, neither will see the field in 2018 — Gay and Wishnowsky — are just that good, but they are nonetheless capable.
“We have freshman punter coming in (Pitt), but both Chayden and Matt can punt if we need them to,” Wishnowsky said. “They are all very adequate punters.”
Johnston, who backs up Gay, was actually named the Utes starting kicker coming out of fall camp last season before Gay assumed control of the job.
Regardless of accolades, every Utah kicker or punter has to have a tremendous amount of self motivation.
The group is coached by Kyle Whittingham and he serves, more often as not, as a guide rather than a taskmaster.
“He does a really good job letting us be us,” said Gay. “He knows that we have what we have. It is a natural thing. He does a good job not hounding us too much. He guides us to find the best way for us personally.”4 comments on this story
“It means a lot because it lets you find what is the most comfortable, and I know Mitch feels the same. His hands-off approach really helps you as a kicker come into your own and find what is comfortable and works for you.”
As far as Whittingham is concerned, it helps to have two of the best in the country.
“They’re great weapons for us,” Whittingham told the Deseret News. “You would have to tell me who in the country has a better 1-2 punch than we’ve got. Both of those guys have outstanding work ethics. They are committed to their craft and they want to get better.”