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What condition are Arizona’s specialists in heading into fall camp?

Tyler Loop
Photo by John Cordes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Welcome back to our annual series in which we try to determine if the Arizona Wildcats’ position groups are in strong, stable, unstable, or critical condition heading into fall camp, which opens Aug. 5. Last up? The specialists!

  • Key returners: Lucas Havrisik (Sr.), Tyler Loop (RS Fr.), Kyle Ostendorp (RS So.), Seth MacKellar (RS So.)
  • Key additions: None via scholarship
  • Key departures: None

If there’s any good thing about being on a 12-game losing streak like Arizona is, it’s that their kickers and punters have gotten plenty of in-game reps. And we learned in the 0-5 2020 season that Arizona has two darn good specialists in Lucas Havrisik and Tyler Loop, plus a reliable long snapper in Seth MacKellar. (That position often gets overlooked but not here!)

Havrisik, who returns for a fifth season, is coming off the best year of a rollercoaster career. In 2020, he made nine of 10 extra points and six of seven field goals, including a 51-yarder vs. USC. His 85.7% field goal percentage was 16th-best in the nation.

That was after Havrisik made just 16 of his 28 field goal attempts over the previous two seasons. Havrisik has always had NFL-caliber leg strength, and in 2020 he was finally able to pair it with pinpoint accuracy. Another strong season in 2021 and he could emerge as one of the top kicking prospects in the draft next spring.

Loop beat out Ostendorp for the starting punting job as a true freshman and averaged 43 yards per punt in 2020, good for fifth in the Pac-12. Still not great but a huge improvement from the previous season when the Wildcats only averaged 38.8 yards per punt.

Six of Loop’s 24 punts went 50+ yards and eight landed inside the 20-yard line compared to just two touchbacks.

Where Arizona’s new coaching staff can make a big difference is helping the Wildcats sharpen up in the return game. On both sides of the ball. Arizona averaged a Pac-12 worst 17.7 yards per kick return and seven yards per punt return, a middle-of-the-Pac mark. They were even worse at defending them.

Those struggles reared their ugly heads in the Territorial Cup when ASU returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown, jumpstarting that eventual 70-7 rout.

Arizona doesn’t have a designated special teams coach under Jedd Fisch. Instead, those duties will be split between tight ends coach Jordan Paopao and linebackers coach Keith Dudzinski.

Condition: Stable

This position group might be deserving of a “strong” grade because of how well Loop and Havrisik kicked last season, but Arizona fans should know how volatile specialists can be from one year to the next.

It will be interesting to see what happens in 2022 when Havrisik is no longer in the program. It’s very possible that Loop will pull double duty, serving as Arizona’s punter and kicker. Until then, Loop and Havrisik should—keyword: should—be a solid duo, and might be able to sway a close game or two in Arizona’s favor.