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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    “Bondzio, Crier lead way on special teams”

    According to Arizona place kicker Jason Bondzio, the EA Sports video game designers for NCAA Football 2009 got it wrong.

    “”I led the conference in touchbacks last year and (the game makers) don’t even understand that,”” Bondzio said. “”I figured I would be able to get a touchback pretty easily in the game,”” but the game makers didn’t give the Wildcat kicker his proper dues when it comes to leg strength.

    While the supposed glitch may cause a problem for Bondzio and other video game fans on a virtual football field, the second-year starter is confident no such issue exists in reality.

    Like Bondzio said, his 22 touchbacks last season did indeed lead the Pacific 10 Conference, and he also proved to be a consistent field-goal option for head coach Mike Stoops as he hit 21 of his 26 attempts.

    But last season Stoops allowed Bondzio only one opportunity to kick a field goal from beyond 50 yards. It was a 59-yard attempt against Washington State, which had the distance, but sailed wide of

    the uprights.

    Bondzio didn’t have to kick for any 3-pointers in Saturday’s 70-0 win over Idaho, but he did convert all seven extra points he attempted. Now in his second season as the regular place kicker for the Wildcats, Bondzio is hoping to earn more long-distance respect from his coach.

    “”It’s all about just trying to build confidence in coach Stoops,”” Bondzio said. “”I feel comfortable from about 55 to 60 (yards).

    “”In (a preseason) scrimmage, I hit a 55-yarder that would have been good from about 65. If they give me an opportunity (to hit a 65-yarder) I’ll do it.””

    Bondzio’s performance throughout fall camp has indeed given the coaching staff reason to believe in his leg, as he was perfect with converting on all six attempts during the first and third scrimmages.

    Performances like these have made progress toward earning the added respect, as Stoops admitted his high regard for Bondzio’s leg.

    “”He’s got a very strong leg and his depth on kickoffs has been excellent,”” Stoops said of Bondzio. “”We feel like anywhere from probably 55 (yards) and in, he’s got a great opportunity to get it there if the conditions

    are right.””

    While Bondzio appears to have things taken care of on the place-kicking side of the Wildcats’ special teams unit, the punting side has been a bit shaky throughout fall camp, much in part due to the absence of 2007 All Pac-10 punter Keenyn Crier, who missed most of the preseason practices while recovering from

    back surgery.

    In his absence, backup place kicker Alex Zendejas – as well as wide receiver Kyle Day – both worked to fill Crier’s shoes, should the sophomore be unavailable for Arizona’s second game against Toledo on

    Saturday as a result of Crier’s injured left ankle he sustained

    against Idaho.

    Although both backup kickers looked impressive during camp, and despite Crier’s 2-yard punt against Idaho, a healthy Crier would be much welcomed, as expectations are high surrounding the punter who averaged 43.7 yards per kick in 2007.

    “”I think (Keenyn) is going to be OK; I hear it’s just a high-ankle sprain,”” UA special teams coach Jeff Hammerschmidt said. “”He put a little weight on it (yesterday) and kicked A-OK.

    “”But if he’s not OK to go, Alex (Zendejas) has done a great job and even had a 51-yard punt in the game last Saturday so things should be fine.””

    Crier has already been placed on the watch list for the Ray Guy Award – an award given to the nation’s top punter – following his impressive freshman season.

    “”(Keenyn) is doing good and he seems to be recovering,”” Bondzio said. “”But it’s good we have two other punters in there that we feel confident with – Kyle Day and Alex Zendejas – so I think the first couple of games we shouldn’t have a problem with special teams.””

    The Wildcats have also seen good things on the return side of the ball as several candidates look to fill the shoes of graduated senior Antoine Cason as the team’s leading return man.

    Sitting atop the depth chart is wide receiver Mike Thomas followed by cornerback

    Devin Ross.

    Both players got experience last season returning kickoffs, as Thomas averaged 23.7 yards per return, while Ross picked up 21.3.

    However, Saturday it was true freshman Keola Antolin splitting time with Thomas as he returned two kicks for eight yards.

    “”We thought it would be hard to start the game with a true freshman,”” Hammerschmidt said. “”But as soon as we felt like we could get (Antolin) in and get him some touches he was really amazing.””

    With strong 2007 seasons by both Crier and Bondzio, as well as the talent of Arizona’s many returners, the Wildcats’ special teams unit feels an All Pac-10 team honor is not out of reach for

    any of them.

    “”There could be (an All-Conference player on special teams),”” Bondzio said. “”That’s motivation. I think we have what it takes to get there. The most important thing is just doing what the team needs to do and if we take care of that, good things will come naturally.””

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