Arizona was back in full pads for Thursday morning’s practice, the 13th of training camp and the second-to-last before Saturday night’s “mock game” inside Arizona Stadium. And with that scrimmage looming on the horizon, the Wildcats tried to make a few of their drills more like a game situation than one played in a vacuum.
That included trotting out kicker Tyler Loop for field goal attempts after a simulated drive or red zone possession stalled. The first of these saw Loop not only nail a 41-yard field goal but put it onto the roof of the Ginny L. Clements Academic Center on the north side of the Dick Tomey Practice Fields.
It gave us a glimpse of just how strong of a leg that Loop, who takes over as the full-time kicker after serving as the extra-point and “short yardage” field goal specialist in 2021.
Loop said he’s comfortable out to 60 yards, though in practice he and his kicking team—long snapper Seth MacKellar and holder Kyle Ostendorp—have focused on “high-percentage” attempts from 45 yards and in.
The third-year sophomore was perfect last season, making all 12 field goals (with a long of 42) and all 12 PATs. In last week’s scrimmage he was 2 for 3, missing from 52 yards but easily making the shorter attempts.
The first time he misses a kick in an actual game will be the first time that’s happened in his college career, and after some extra mental work in the offseason he says he’s better prepared for how to deal with that.
“I kind of was a little bit of a headcase in the spring,” he said. “I’d miss a kick and like I’d trip out a little bit. So this summer I spent a lot of time with our sports psychology team, working on seeing a kick objectively like, hey I made it or I missed it but I’ve got (the) next kick. I put too much emotion on kicks, but I was always like super emotional, played with a ton of passion growing up. I still do but now it’s all about how do you keep that passion without letting it affect the next kick?”
Loop said he “hated” football before his father made him try out kicking in seventh grade and he fell in love with it.
Ostendorp happy with preseason honors, but …
The two most-decorated Wildcats entering the 2022 season are one that has never played a game for them (wide receiver Jacob Cowing) and another (Ostendorp) who’s presence on the field usually signals offensive failure.
Arizona’s punter, who set a school record last season with a 49.2-yard average, made the first team of the Pac-12’s preseason all-conference squad, also landing on the preseason All-American teams for Sporting News and Pro Football Network while making the watch list for the Ray Guy Award.
While flattered about the recognition, Ostendorp said none of those matter if his team isn’t doing well.
“It’s cool, don’t get me wrong, but at the end of the day I’m trying to help my team out and go out and win some games,” Ostendorp said.
A fourth-year junior, Ostendorp is already working on his Master’s in aerospace engineering after being the athletic department’s valedictorian last May. He said that accomplishment stood out as more of an individual one than the football accolades he’s garnered—“I felt like I was the one taking the test, I was the one doing well,” he said—he wants his on-field performance to mean more to the team’s success.
“Yeah, I was first-team all-Pac-12, but I want to be first place in the Pac-12 team as a team,” Ostendorp said.
Protecting the punter
Ostendorp had three punts blocked last season, something that may have been due to Arizona only using two blockers in the wall between the line of scrimmage and the punter. That was the choice of Keith Dudzinski, who is now at UMass, while new special teams coordinator Jordan Paopao plans to mainly go with a 3-man wall like most FBS teams do.
“We’re gonna do a variety of different things, we’re gonna be in some times where we have some two and we’re gonna be in some times where we have a 3-man shield,” Paopao said. “But ultimately, I think at the end of the day, it’s a little bit of a personal preference. It’s what I’ve done for a while. It’s what I feel comfortable with.”
The likely trio for that wall are offensive lineman Josh Donovan and defensive linemen JB Brown and Paris Shand. Ostendorp called Donovan, the projected starting left guard on offense, the “quarterback” of the shield by being in the middle and the one who calls out for the snap.
That part of the punt team seems set, while candidates to be gunners include receiver Anthony Simpson, linebackers Ammon Allen and Anthony Solomon and safety DJ Warnell On punt coverage, walk-on Nazar Bombata is expected to play a big role again after last season becoming the first UA player since 2002 to block two punts in a season. Defensive backs Dalton Johnson and Isaiah Taylor were also mentioned as likely contributors on that squad.
As for return candidates, Paopao identified receivers Jacob Cowing and Dorian Singer, safety Jaxen Turner and running back Rayshon ‘Speedy’ Luke. With Luke, a true freshman, the key will be identifying the best way he can make an impact on special teams considering his big-play potential.
“When you look at his talent set and his skill set, you want to make sure that you’re putting him in a position to success, but you also want to make sure that he has a lot of confidence,” Paopao said.
- After missing Wednesday practice for undisclosed reasons, quarterback Jayden de Laura was a full participant Thursday. He also led the team in a pre-stretch haka, though it wasn’t as unique as the one dozens of Wildcats did by the pool at the Student Rec Center on Wednesday afternoon:
- Also back at practice, though not participating, was wide receiver Jacob Cowing, who missed Sunday and Wednesday and was only briefly at Tuesday’s practice in street clothes. Cowing, in a jersey and shorts, did some light jogging on the sideline under the supervision of a trainer.
- Arizona did a modified version of the Oklahoma drill, with one ball carrier and one linebacker or defensive back lining up five yards apart at the goal line. Among the highlights were freshman running back Jonah Coleman bulldozing his defender and safety Christian Young knocking off tight end Keyan Burnett’s helmet.
- Two members of Arizona’s highly touted 2022 recruiting class have made 247Sports’ True Freshman Preseason All-America Team. Wide receiver Tetairoa McMillan is “already a face of the program,” while the presence of he and offensive lineman Jonah Savaiinaea on the squad “speaks to the level of excitement Jedd Fisch has generated in Tucson.”
- McMillan, Savaiinaea and sophomore defensive tackle Tiaoalii Savea have made the preseason watch list for the 2022 Polynesian College Football Player of the Year award.