Utah kicker Jadon Redding visited the campus last November when Matt Gay kicked a school-record six field goals against Oregon. He’s now wearing Gay’s old No. 97. Redding started the season as the Utes’ No. 2 kicker, as Gay once did, before getting an opportunity that stemmed from another player’s missed field goal.
If Redding wins the Lou Groza Award winner as the country's best kicker, the comparisons to Gay's story would become overwhelming. All the Utes want him to do right now is hit extra points and routine field goals.
That would make him an upgrade over Andrew Strauch, who kicked off consistently well last week at BYU and will keep that duty in Saturday’s game vs. Northern Illinois. Strauch drilled a 41-yard field goal in Provo, but then missed an extra point and a 25-yard attempt, so coach Kyle Whittingham turned to Redding for the last two extra points of Utah’s 30-12 victory.
“The first kick was definitely exciting,” Redding said, “but the second kick fell right into place.”
That development somewhat resembled how Gay took the job in the 2017 season opener vs. North Dakota, after Chayden Johnston’s 45-yard try sailed wide left (barely). Gay hit his first extra point and kicked his way to a national award and a job with the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
NORTHERN ILLINOIS AT NO. 13 UTAH
When: Saturday, 11 a.m.
TV: Pac-12 Networks
And No. 97 again is kicking for Utah. The number “felt pretty special to get it after Matt had it,” Redding said. “Got a new name on the back, and I hope I can create my own legacy.”
Redding’s version is the coaching and equipment staffs chose the number for him. Adam Tanalski, his personal kicking coach, said he “wouldn’t doubt” Redding had a voice in the selection: “Anyone who wants to wear Matt Gay’s number, that’s a pretty big, confident thing.”
Redding has considerable self-belief, a good trait for a kicker. Bill Brown, his coach at Colonial Forge High School in Virginia, described his level of confidence as “a little bit of arrogance.”
Needing a replacement for Gay in 2019, Utah connected with Redding through Tanalski's Hammer Kicking Academy, whose products include Ute long snapper Keegan Markgraf. Jeremy LaPan, a former Utah graduate assistant and special teams analyst, liked Redding's videotape and recommended him to Whittingham, who gave Redding an offer as a preferred walk-on. Whittingham has promised a scholarship to a kicker, if anyone proves worthy this season.
Redding may have earned the job in August, but his groin injury early in preseason camp affected his kicking and led Whittingham to pare the competition to Strauch and Nels Haltom. “I tried to push through it, figuring that would be the smarter way, but it ended up taking a toll on me,” Redding said. “Andrew deserved it; he was a good kicker.”
Strauch looked good in Provo, too, until hitting the right upright on his first extra point (after Andy Phillips and Gay had combined for 182 straight for Utah over four-plus seasons), making the next extra point and missing the short field goal. “If he would have made all those, I would have been his biggest supporter,” Redding said, “but at the same time, it still is my job to be ready if Whitt feels someone else needs to be in there.”
Whittingham personally coaches Utah's kickers, evidence of the emphasis that made Redding declare the school “Special Teams U” when he committed. He had a scholarship offer from Maryland and strong interest from Syracuse and Duke in the recruiting class of 2018. An academic issue related to a mixup with one class, according to Tanalski, kept him from becoming eligible until it was too late to be recruited anywhere in advance of last season.
So he did what a lot of Tanalski’s specialists do, moving near the Hammer headquarters in the Buffalo area and taking a class at Erie Community College. Redding lived in New York from August through December, reluctantly at first. He had “just a little immaturity; really needed a little time to myself to see what I wanted in life, and figuring some things out,” he said. “It was actually really helpful, now that I look back on it.”
Redding “never in a million years thought I'd be at Utah,” he said, “but it's a blessing to be here.”
Having watched Gay kick those six field goals vs. Oregon in a 32-25 win, Redding is the new No. 97. Utah’s Australian punters have worn No. 33, now belonging to freshman Ben Lennon. No. 97 might develop its own tradition. There’s a practical reason for kickers to wear numbers in the 90s, the usual domain of defensive linemen. In this era of duplicate numbers, coaches must make sure two players with the same number are not on the field together (USC was penalized via that rule Saturday vs. Fresno State). Defensive linemen usually don’t block for kickers and punters.
That explains how No. 97 has become popular among Hammer students, and Tanalski likes seeing Redding on the field with it after wearing No. 92 in spring practice. Redding came out of the spring behind Johnston, who subsequently gave up football. Whittingham brought in Strauch, a graduate transfer from UCLA, and Haltom, from Bountiful High School via a California junior college, to compete with Redding.
Whittingham said of Redding, “He's proven to have a strong leg. He's got good mechanics; solid kicker. He just needs some more experience.”
He'll get that opportunity, with his first field goal attempt as a college kicker likely to come Saturday. “If he does his job,” Tanalski said, “he'll be a tremendous success story.”
Just as Utah has come to expect from its kickers.