A kicker with his sanity intact?

By By Natalie Dicou

By Natalie Dicou

In pop culture, kickers are often portrayed as head cases.

The plot of “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective”, for instance, involves a kicker who goes crazy after missing a potential Super Bowl-winning field goal.

It’s not too surprising that kickers are sometimes considered a little kooky-if you think about it.

Kickers play a somewhat bizarre role on football teams. They aren’t involved in the physical battle that takes place on the gridiron, but when the game is on the line, they are often summoned from the sideline and given the sole task of kicking the ball through a pair of distant uprights.

In spite of the enormous pressure, Ute kicker/punter Louie Sakoda hasn’t gone insane. There’s no crazy glint in his eye and when interviewed, Sakoda-an academic All-MWC selection-comes across as soft-spoken and courteous.

While Sakoda doesn’t act out any strange rituals prior to attempting a field goal, he admits he’s a tad superstitious because of his background as a baseball player.

Before punting, for example, he douses his hands with water, pats them dry and then licks his fingers.

“Every single time, I do it that way,” Sakoda said.

Other than that, the junior from San Jose, Calif. is tic-free.

It’s Sakoda’s teammates-not Sakoda himself-who have weird ideas about how kickers should be treated prior to important field goal attempts.

“I’ve heard from some guys that think it’s bad luck if they touch me in that situation,” Sakoda said with a laugh.

While many kickers are loners that never win the respect of their teammates, Sakoda says he feels like he’s been accepted as a full member of the Utah football team.

Sakoda began place-kicking when he joined Pop Warner at age nine or 10. His coach made the entire team give kicking a try, and immediately it was clear that Sakoda had a gift.

“I just annihilated the ball and kicked it over everyone’s head,” said Sakoda, who also played receiver, cornerback and linebacker in high school before deciding to focus solely on kicking. “At that point, I knew (my kicking ability) was something that not many people had so I went to camps and developed it.”

Sakoda’s hard work has paid off.

In 2006, he didn’t miss a single PAT in 43 tries and was named co-MWC Special Teams Player of the Year.

Sakoda’s stellar effort at the Armed Forces Bowl earned him further accolades. After nailing four field goals in four attempts and placing two out of three punts inside opponent Tulsa’s 20-yard line, Sakoda was named the bowl game’s MVP.

In 2007, Sakoda will vie for the Ray Guy Award and the Lou Groza Award, honors given to the nation’s best collegiate punter and place-kicker, respectively.

Not surprisingly, Sakoda’s favorite all-time kick is the 37-yard game-winning field goal he booted against Air Force in 2006.

“I knew (Air Force) still had two timeouts left and they were going to try to ice me,” Sakoda said. “I was trying to stay as calm as I could…by the time it came time to snap the ball, I was ready.”

As the final seconds ticked off the clock, Sakoda split the uprights and gave the Utes a 17-14 edge.

“Having the whole team rush the field and pick me up was awesome,” Sakoda said. “It was a shorter field goal. I should make it no matter what.”

Still, “nothing beats a game-winning field goal,” Sakoda said.

Sakoda will likely face similar scenarios this season. With the game on the line and 45,000 fans nervously looking on, he’ll probably have to step up and kick a fate-deciding field goal at some point this year.

It could be a kick that decides who wins the conference championship or one that qualifies or disqualifies the Utes for a bowl game.

Is he nervous?

Please.

Sakoda lives for situations like those.

“I thrive on that stuff,” Sakoda said. “It makes me work harder.”