BYU's other "Riley" might be in the headlines a few times this season. As I noted in this article in today's Salt Lake Tribune, punter Riley Stephenson is getting ready to be the Cougars' placekicker if regular kicker Justin Sorensen can't go. Sorensen had an MRI on his sore back on Tuesday, and it is no secret that doctors are concerned he won't be able to kick this season.
I'm sure the results of Sorensen's MRI, and his future plans, will be a topic in coach Bronco Mendenhall's post-practice conversation with reporters this afternoon when the Cougars wrap up their sixth practice of preseason camp.
Because Sorensen wasn't all that great at field goals last year (15 of 25), Stephenson is probably an adequate fill-in at that spot. But there's no question that Sorensen has the bigger leg when it comes to kickoffs.
Still, Stephenson says he thinks he can get the ball to the end zone, especially with the new kickoff rules.
This year, the ball will be kicked from the 35 yard-line (instead of the 30) as the NCAA attempts to keep players safer. Also, the ball will be placed on the 25-yard line on a touchback, instead of the 20. And players on the kicking team will only be allowed running starts of 5 yards.
"Over the summer I was able to [get the ball in the end zone from the 35]," Stephenson said. "With a three-step kickoff, I can get it pretty much to the 5, with some decent hang time. If we want to drill it to the end zone, I am fine with that. I will put a little extra foot into it. The thing about it is, if they want to put it 2 yards into the end zone, then we will put it 2 yards deep. If they want us to put in on the 5, we will put it on the 5."
Stephenson says he gets asked all the time about Sorensen's condition.
"You know what? I am not too sure," he said. "He has told me that he is going to be good, and then the next minute the doctor says, 'you know what, we should probably lay off a little bit.' I am just not too sure. That's all up to them. My mindset is that I will be ready, just in case. You always want to be ready."
As a punter, Stephenson's confidence is soaring, thanks to his performance in last year's bowl game.
"The first day of fall camp practice, I was really surprised because I felt like I had just gotten finished with that bowl game practice. I feel like I am right where I need to be. I need to try to keep improving, though, and try to perfect it even more, so we can duplicate seven out of eight kicks inside the 20, or whatever it might be," he said.
Actually, Stephenson only had one bad game last year -- the TCU game.
"Everybody ends up having a game like that [TCU] game. You just don't know when that game is going to be. But I think the main thing with that game is that game is done and over with," he said. "We were good up until that game, and then the games after that, we were pretty good. We were kind of shaken up. But nobody wants a game like that, especially a kicker. Nobody wants to mess up on three punts.
It motivates you to improve and go out and do your best next time."
No doubt about it, Mike Alisa is BYU's primary ball-carrier this season, barring injury. Here's Tribune columnist Gordon Monson's look at the linebacker-turned-running back.
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