University of Utah didn’t have to look far for Andy Phillips’ potential replacement.
Local Chayden Johnston, rated by a prestigious kicking camp as one of the nation’s best, committed to the Utes on Tuesday.
The Bingham High standout grew up playing soccer, practicing for hours on end in his backyard since the age of 3. It wasn’t until he watched Bingham play Herriman in 2010 that he realized, "Hey, I bet I could probably kick a ball that far."
He was correct. As a sophomore he was ranked fourth in the nation at the Kohl’s Kicking Camp Western Showcase, and he began to receive interest from schools like Duke, Boise State and Colorado. But former Utah special teams coach Jay Hill and he built a strong relationship, and when the Utes offered him a couple weeks back, it felt right.
"I’m 100 percent committed to the U.," said Johnston, who wants to go into the medical field in some capacity and will enroll at the U. after an LDS mission. Johnston has met with Phillips and the rest of the U.’s kicking specialists and exchanged pointers, he said.
"They treat me like I’m already one of the players."
That Johnston was offered a scholarship in high school speaks to his ability. Few kickers — at any level — are offered scholarships, with most coming in as preferred walk-ons who pay their way until they earn the top job.
His coach, Dave Peck, said Johnston has hit kicks from 60 yards in practice and from 50 a couple of times in games — despite a thin build that belies his leg strength.
"If you just looked at him, you’d go no way," Peck said.
Johnston says the key is leg speed. He is also rated as a capable punter by Kohl’s.
This year he returned to the pitch and the game he loves after a three-year hiatus. But that’s just for fun, he said. He’s a football player now.
"He’s one of the guys," Peck said. "Sometimes those kickers are kind of quirky. Chayden’s way popular."
— Matthew Piper
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