Deseret News
Utah punter Mitch Wishnowsky and kicker Matt Gay hold their trophies at the Spence and Cleone Eccles Football Center at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Thursday, June 14, 2018.

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah coach Kyle Whittingham wasn’t kidding when he said that punter Mitch Wishnowsky and kicker Matt Gay “were special.” The NFL agreed on Saturday. Wishnowsky was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the fourth round (110th overall) and Gay was taken in the fifth round (145th overall) by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“We felt they were the best tandem in the country and apparently the NFL felt the same way,” Whittingham said.

The Utes made history this past season as the first team in college history to have winners of the Ray Guy (punter) and Lou Groza (kicker) awards on the same roster. Wishnowsky won the Ray Guy Award in 2016 and was the first three-time finalist for the top punting accolade. Gay claimed the Lou Groza Award in 2017 as the nation’s best kicker. He was a semifinalist last season.

Both Wishnowsky and Gay earned All-America recognition at Utah.

The duo are now off to the NFL — becoming the first punter and kicker to be drafted from the same college in the same year since Clemson’s Dale Hatcher and Donald Igwebuike in 1985.

“That’s crazy that hasn’t happened for so long,” Gay said. “It’s so cool to see the hard work pay off.”

Gay noted that he feels blessed to be picked and added that Wishnowsky came all the way from Australia to make it. He said that it’s a testament to his former teammate’s skills.

“You were targeted from the beginning,” San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan told Wishnowsky when the announcement was made. “We were worried we were going to lose you, but we got you here, man, so we’re pumped up.”

Wishnowsky later told reporters in a conference call that it was unbelievable.

"You think punters normally get taken, like it sort of starts in the fifth," said Wishnowsky, who explained that he really got along well with the 49ers coaches. “I was hoping it would be San Fran.”

Utah not only had the first punter taken in the draft, but the Utes also had the first kicker selected when Gay went in the fifth (145th overall). The 2017 Lou Groza Award winner said in a conference call that he was expecting to be taken in the sixth or seventh round, or perhaps go undrafted. Then came the call from Tampa. He admitted to feeling kind of a shock and being overcome with emotion.

“It was amazing, obviously,” Gay said.

So, too, was the weekend for the Barton family. A day after linebacker Cody Barton went to the Seattle Seahawks, his brother Jackson Barton was selected in the seventh round (240th overall) by the Indianapolis Colts.

“I was hoping he would get picked up a little sooner, but I think he’s in a good spot with Indianapolis,” Whittingham said. “And I’m excited for that family. That’s a lot of hard work and a lot of years of preparation gone into that.”

On Friday, Utah safety Marquise Blair and Cody Barton were drafted by Seattle. Blair went in the second round (47th overall) and Barton was picked in the third round (88th overall).

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll told reporters that Blair blitzes well, tackles well and hits well.

“It’s his toughness that we really are excited about,” Carroll said. “He happens to be a really good athlete as well.”

Barton also received a lot of praise.

“He’s really smart, he handled a lot of the communications. That versatility is really important to us and we know he’s an incredibly gifted special teams player as well,” Carroll said. “He’ll have a chance to learn under terrifically experienced guys. He’ll be a great asset to us and we see him being a part of a lot of stuff right off the bat. So we’re really excited about that.”

Utah linebacker Chase Hansen, who hasn’t been able to work out for scouts and coaches while recovering from an injury, went undrafted and signed a free agent deal with the New Orleans Saints.

5 comments on this story

“I think he’s going to prove a lot of people wrong and so we’ll just see what happens,” Whittingham said. “I thought someone would take a shot on him late. He wasn’t able to work out and he’s coming off a surgery, but just turn on the film. The guy is a second-round, at least a second round, talent.”

Whittingham acknowledged that having five players drafted, though, was a very good showing for the program.

“When you consider we only had 11 scholarship seniors, to have just slightly less than half of them drafted was a big positive for us,” he said.