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Utah football: Kicker Coleman Petersen turns nightmare into motivation

Published August 28, 2012 12:01 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Utah kicker Coleman Petersen tracked wind patterns this summer like a captain on the high seas would do.

Except instead of battening down the hatches, he'd head to Rice-Eccles Stadium and kick. Then kick some more, and more.

Finally, after several sessions in less than ideal conditions, the wind that was so devious to him back in November was tamed.

"I've got it figured out," he said. "With the way the stadium is a horse shoe, the wind throws everything off a bit. The south end isn't as bad as the north end, and I know how it blows around."

If only he'd known back in November what he does now, he wouldn't have had as many sleepless nights.

Back then, when the wind was howling and his body was numb from the cold, Petersen missed three field goals against Colorado in Utah's 17-14 loss.

The first two failed attempts were from 26 and 42 yards out. By the time he lined up to take a 48-yarder that would have tied the game with two seconds remaining, Petersen's confidence was so shaken it would have been some sort of miracle for that kick to succeed.

It didn't, and Colorado left with its first road win since 2007.

That game marred what otherwise was a solid year for Petersen. A former walk-on, Petersen earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 by finishing second in the Pac-12 in field goals made (18) and field-goal percentage (18 of 25).

He kicked a game-winner from 38 yards out against Washington State and was named the Pac-12 Special Teams Player of the Week twice.

It was a good season, except for that blasted Colorado game.

"It's still pretty vivid in my mind," he said. "The wind chill, it felt like it was below 30 and the wind was bad. That game still pops into my mind once in a while, but it motivates me."

It motivated him to get up to the stadium and sort out those wind patterns. He feels much better about his home stadium now, but just for good measure he spent extra time working on his technique too.

Petersen consulted with former Utah kicker Louie Sakoda and has improved his ball strike and the height on his kicks.

"I feel a lot better than I did last year," he said. "You always lose your legs at the first part of camp and then they come back."

In Petersen's case, they came back stronger. In a competition with junior Nick Marsh for the place-kicking duties, Petersen solidified his spot late in camp with several good performances.

During one of the last sessions of camp, he nailed a kick from about 55 yards out. After that, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham proclaimed him to be the go-to guy.

"He has done a really nice job lately," Whittingham said. "He struggled early with consistency but has done a good job."

That is about as much of a glowing comment as any kicker can hope for from Whittingham, who hasn't always been thrilled with Utah's kicking ever since Sakoda left the program in 2008 as an All-American.

Sakoda enjoyed celebrity-like status on Utah's campus and probably spoiled Utah's fans with his accuracy. He made 57 of his 66 attempts and set a school record by scoring 308 points in his career.

While he doesn't pretend to be the next Sakoda, Petersen does believe he can be the kind of consistent kicker the Utes need. After all, he did OK last year until that Colorado game.

"By summer, I started to figure it out," he said of his kicks. "I've been working hard every day and I feel good."

His kicks look good, too.