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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Special teams unit hopes to make major impact

    Kicking off the season for the Wildcat football team will be senior kicker Nick Folk, here attempting a 20-yard field goal during an Aug. 19 scrimmage. Folk has the leg to break the NCAA record for longest field goal, according to special teams coach Joe Robinson, but he would need the approval of head coach Mike Stoops to make an attempt.
    Kicking off the season for the Wildcat football team will be senior kicker Nick Folk, here attempting a 20-yard field goal during an Aug. 19 scrimmage. Folk has the leg to break the NCAA record for longest field goal, according to special teams coach Joe Robinson, but he would need the approval of head coach Mike Stoops to make an attempt.

    The kicking game is often known as one of the most psychologically tough positions to be in during a game in any sport.

    It is either pass or fail – nothing in between. A kicker can be sitting for an entire game and then be called upon to try to win the game, and that is his only attempt of the day. Oftentimes, that grueling task is too hard to overcome.

    Having a strong mental game could be the key for kicker Nick Folk and the rest of the special teams this year.

    “”It’s going to get to you sometimes, but you’ve got to try to just block it out and think of a game-winner as just another kick,”” said Folk, a redshirt senior. “”I just try to tell myself, ‘You’ve done this a million times.'””

    Said Joe Robinson, Arizona’s special teams coach: “”He may stand on the sideline for 3 1/2 hours and not do anything and then all of a sudden have to go in there and perform at the highest level to win a game for the Wildcats. We set up some drills to help prepare him, but he has to focus on the mental aspect of the game every day.””

    Folk, who is known for his strong leg, may have a legitimate chance to break the NCAA record this season for the longest field goal without a tee (65 yards, Kansas State’s Martin Gramatica in 1998) and when asked about the possibility, Folk and Robinson jumped at the idea.

    “”If the time’s right, I’m sure (UA head coach

    “”You’ve got to think of every kick as the same kick, whether it’s a real long one or a PAT, because everything should be the same kick for a kicker.””

    – Nick Folk
    redshirt senior kicker

    Mike Stoops) would let me try it,”” Folk said. “”Maybe at the end of a half or something. It’s always in the back of his head, I’m sure.””

    Robinson said it will be up to Stoops to make that call.

    “”We’re all rooting for it,”” Robinson said. “”We think he’s got a huge leg. If the situation for a long field goal comes up, I’m sure coach Stoops will consider it very strongly.””

    When asked if Folk could do it, Robinson responded with a resounding, “”Heck yeah.””

    Even if he doesn’t break the record, Robinson said Folk has a reasonable shot at becoming selected in April’s NFL Draft but acknowledged that much of it hinges on how strong his senior season is.

    “”I think he has the talent to play in the NFL,”” Robinson said. “”He has in my opinion, without question, the ability to play in that league.””

    McQuown looking to replace Baugher

    Despite Arizona’s second consecutive 3-8 season, the emergence of several players on the special teams unit served as a bright spot.

    The unit ranked high in the Pacific 10 Conference in several categories last year – first in kickoff coverage, third in kickoff return average and fourth in punting average – and this year figures to be another promising one, despite the loss of punter Danny Baugher.

    Baugher suffered a season-ending knee injury last year against Oregon when he tried to advance a blocked punt, tearing ligaments in his knee. He did not play in a Wildcat uniform again, as he used up his eligibility, and now-junior Kyle McQuown has taken the reins.

    Baugher, a player who last year had a 76-yard punt in a game against Purdue, was renowned for being consistent with long punts.

    McQuown, a Tucson native out of Salpointe High School, spent his first two collegiate seasons playing for Idaho State, then moved back home for a chance to punt for Arizona.

    “”It’s going to be different with the home crowd,”” McQuown said. “”I’ve got a lot of family that’s going to be out there watching, and everybody’s really excited.””

    McQuown spent last season on Arizona’s scout team and was not able to play after Baugher’s injury. Folk took over the punter’s role after doing double duty and has since trained McQuown on his game.

    “”I worked with Nick all summer long,”” McQuown said. “”He was able to help me out. My hang time has gotten a lot better, and I’m placing the ball pretty well right now in practice.

    “”It’s great. Last year was rough, having played two years in Idaho and then coming here and sitting out a year and follow behind Baugher, but last year I was able to work with them and get better.””

    Robinson spent the summer emphasizing a longer hang time for McQuown and thinks the improvement will help the team recover from the loss of Baugher.

    “”We’ve got to replace Baugher, who was a great punter for us last year,”” Robinson said. “”That’s probably the place where we need to see the biggest improvement.

    “”Kyle really, really worked on his game a lot over the summer. He went from a guy that really only had average hang time this spring to a guy that has really impressed us with his hang time and his technique this fall, so I think he’s taken some great strides forward and is going to be a great contributor.””

    Another huge part of Arizona’s success this season will depend on Folk, who has had his share of ups and downs as a placekicker but looks for a major improvement this year.

    “”We hope for a huge senior year for Nick,”” Robinson said. “”Hopefully he can have a huge improvement on his field goals. Nick has been such a great performer for us in the past.

    “”I think what he has worked on has been some very technical things in his game, and I think he’s improved them. He just needs to keep building on his success.””

    Last year Folk had few field goal attempts, going 7-for-11 (63.6 percent), a 2 percent increase from his 2004 numbers. Folk also missed two extra point attempts, but still had a 94 percent success rate, going 31-of-33.

    “”I’m just working on my consistency,”” Folk said. “”You have to be consistent with the snap and the hold of course. I’m also working on getting the time down.””

    Folk said missed field goal attempts help him grow mentally as a player and also motivate him to practice his kicking even more.

    “”You can’t let it get to you,”” he said. “”You’ve got to think of every kick as the same kick, whether it’s a real long one or a PAT, because everything should be the same kick for a kicker. It would definitely be good to get a game winner, though, that’s for sure.””

    Steptoe looking for more big returns

    On the other side of the ball senior Syndric Steptoe, the 5-foot-9, 182-pound wide receiver, returns as the main punt returner, Robinson said.

    Last season Steptoe had moderate success returning punts, averaging 11.1 yards per carry, including a 63-yard touchdown return against UCLA in November.

    Steptoe had some trouble avoiding some big hits last season, however, which resulted in a few lost fumbles. Still, Steptoe said his blocking team has done a great job clearing the way for him to run and that that alone is a big reason as to why he has been so successful.

    “”I think I’ve been lucky because I’ve had people to block for me,”” Steptoe said. “”As long as I’ve been here, people have been willing to put their neck on the line and make that incredible block for me.””

    Robinson said he is trying to coach the rest of his special teams unit to create some holes that will allow Steptoe some decent running room, but the advice Robinson has for Steptoe is simple: “”We’ve got to do a little bit better job of protecting him, but he’s got to use his speed.””

    Blocking is indeed the name of the game for Steptoe and the rest of the returning corps this season, but Steptoe said there is room for improvement from himself and others on special teams.

    “”Being a punt returner is one of the hardest jobs on the field,”” Steptoe said. “”I’m just trying to make the right decisions on the ball. My block team is going to have to protect for me as they did last year, but we’re all going to have to come out there and execute the right plays.””

    Freshman receiver Mike Thomas will also attempt to return punts and kicks this year, lining up next to Steptoe, but Steptoe will assume the role he has had for three years.

    “”Step had a great year returning the football last year, and we’re looking for him to have a good senior year now,”” Robinson said.

    As a whole, the Arizona special teams still appear to be among the strongest in the Pac-10. The loss of Baugher could prove to be bigger than expected, but Robinson and his squad appear to be ready to start the season better than last year, as Robinson said he feels everyone should improve.

    “”We always strive to be the best,”” Steptoe said. “”This year we’re coming out and our expectations are just that much higher. Last year we barely touched the surface of what we could do.

    “”Me, Nick and even Kyle have to step up this year, but we’re expecting some big years out of special teams this season.””

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