Lucas Havrisik and Josh Pollack split placekicking duties for the Arizona Wildcats last season. Havrisik specialized in long field goals, while Pollack handled the short game and extra points.
The results weren’t great. Arizona finished eighth in the Pac-12 in field-goal percentage and 11th in extra-point percentage. New special teams coach Jeremy Springer wants to avoid a similar setup this year.
“I want one guy doing it all,” he said.
So from August until the penultimate week of fall camp, Havrisik and Pollack will be going kick for kick, trying to earn the starting nod.
“It’s real,” Springer described the competition. “They know it’s no one’s job. It’s either Josh or Lucas. I’m charting them everyday, whether it’s a team rep or whether it’s on the field with just us two. But it’s going to come down to that last two weeks before BYU to see who’s gonna step up in that role and be our starter.”
The rocket-legged Havrisik will be the kickoff specialist — “he’s good, he’s earned that right,” Springer said — and should have the inside track to be the placekicker.
The sophomore was 3-for-4 on field goals last season, including makes from 45 and 54 yards out — and his range extends far beyond that. Havrisik routinely makes field goals from 60 yards out, and says he once made a 72-yarder when he was just “messing around.”
Meanwhile, Pollack was 11-for-15 last season, missing half of his four kicks from distance (40+ yards).
“He’s got tremendous upside,” Springer said of Havrisik. “What I like about Lucas is that he’s very mentally strong. You can you talk a bunch of trash to him, you can to try to psyche him out, he can miss a field goal, but then he’s not missing the next one. ...And that’s what I like about his confidence.”
Havrisik has always been known for two things: a strong leg and a thin frame. But thanks to the help of UA’s training staff, he has packed on 25 pounds since his freshman season.
He also does yoga and dynamic stretching with assistant strength and conditioning coach Justin Springer, Jeremy Springer’s twin brother, to maintain his flexibility.
“I came in here 163 freshman year and now I’m like 188,” Havrisik said. “So gaining weight in the weight room and just staying consistent with every ball (are my two main focuses). Last year, a few times I was stutter-stepping, which wasn’t the greatest. All my steps are good. My field goals are solid. Everything is straight.”
So is his relationship with Pollack, even though the competition between them is fierce.
“We’re really good friends,” Havrisik said. “He’s a great guy. I don’t think the competition is really getting between us. I mean we’re both competitive, but we’re good friends so it’s pretty good.”
Make no mistake about it, though: Havrisik wants to come out on top.
“Competition is great,” he said, “but I want it, so I’m going to go get it.”
Balls to the wall
Springer’s arms are always moving when he talks — up, down, all around. So much so that he nearly knocked the phone out of a reporter’s hand during his interview Tuesday.
He brings that same energy to the field each day, and he wants his players to replicate it. Any improvement the team makes on special teams starts there, he says.
“Because sometimes it’s not always scheme, it’s not always going to be the most elaborate thing that you’re going to do a trick play or whatever it is,” Springer said. “If our guys come out there, they play fast, they play hard, and make special teams a priority like offense and defense is, we’re going to be much better. And that’s what I’m trying to instill. Not so much scheme, but really just playing fast, playing with energy and playing balls to the wall most of the time.”
Last season, Arizona’s special teams were directed by Brian Knorr, who also coached defensive ends. Springer only focuses on special teams, which Havrisik appreciates.
“It’s huge,” the kicker said. “He has drills for us every day. He has regiments for us every other day so every day is a different thing and we’ll have drills we’ve never done before.”
One of those drills: the kickers stand about five yards from the goal post and try to clear the crossbar, making sure their kicks are getting enough air under them.
“Last year we kind of just warmed up, did our own thing, but now we have a specific set of things to do which is great,” Havrisik said.
Since it is still early in fall camp, Arizona is experimenting with several players on special teams. Springer listed Anthony Pandy, Christian Young, Isaiah Hayes, Dayven Coleman, and Malcolm Holland as guys who have stood out so far.
“It’s fall camp, you’ve got a number of freshman and you’ve got to see what they can do,” Springer said. “And then you got some guys that maybe in spring they didn’t really know the techniques and stuff that over the summertime they developed it. And now they actually get what we’re trying to do, so you got to see everyone the team. I’m trying to play everybody. That’s my goal — to see who could help us the most.”
About that new kickoff rule....
Starting this season, kick returners can signal for a fair catch on any ball inside the 25-yard and the offense will start on the 25. The rule change is designed to reduce kick returns, which studies have shown are the most dangerous play in football.
Springer likes the new rule since it’s designed to improve player safety, but says it will have “no effect” on what Arizona does.
“Not at all,” he said. “We’ll adjust by game, keep an eye on the team we’re playing and what they’re doing just like any game.”
Havrisik said he prefers to boom the ball through the back of the endzone, but he’s working on squib kicks so Arizona can take advantage of the rule change when the timing is right.
“(I’m) definitely working on all aspects of that because Springer wants it and you’re going to have to change it up a little and make sure you can do everything you need to,” he said. “So yes, squib kicks. And you’ll see, we’ll have some stuff.”