TUCSON, Ariz. — If Charlie Ragle has heard it once, he’s heard it 1,000 times: What’s up with the Arizona kickers, and are they going to be any good?
Improved would be a step forward, given the recent erratic history of the position for the Wildcats.
Wide rights, wide lefts and blocked kicks have been commonplace and costly for Arizona for several years running. Inconsistency has been the norm — especially with the place-kicking, and to a lesser extent with punting.
"Nobody knows that better than me," said Ragle, now in his second year as UA’s special teams coach. "Trust me, if I had a dollar for every time someone asked me how our kicking game is going to be, I would still be in Hawaii on permanent vacation."
For 2014, the solution looks to be Casey Skorwon, a high school soccer star at Brophy Prep turned soccer manager turned, um, possible starter. Freshman Josh Pollack and Virginia Tech transfer Ethan Keyserling are also competing for an opportunity. Any one of three could handle kickoffs.
"They’ve all brought something to the table," Ragle said. "Josh Pollack is going to be really good … down the road he’s going to be a really good player."
That would be welcomed by the UA faithful.
In the meantime, the kicking game remains a great unknown. Skowron, a fourth-year junior, has never kicked in a college game. Pollack is fresh out of high school in Highland Park, Ill. Keyserling, a fifth-year senior, has the most game experience of all by virtue of two PATs while at Virginia Tech.
Ragle said Skowron has worked as hard as anyone in the weight room to get ready after suffering injuries (groin,hip) last year that continued to plague him this past spring.
But he vows that he’s 100 percent healthy and 100 percent confident in his ability to do the job.
"I’m doing everything I can to make every kick possible," he said. "It’s been a little frustrating the last few years, and it puts a lot of pressure on us to do a lot better, especially with Coach Ragle. He can be intense . . . if we’re not kicking well, he’s on us."
Ragle says all three big legs; more importantly is the need to have consistent legs.
"We think 42 yards and in should be a gimme," Ragle said. "We shouldn’t even think twice about it. We should be able to run them in and not even flinch."
Skowron showed a strong leg last week when
working in front of a smallish crowd before the Meet the Team night, hitting from distances from well beyond 45 yards.
"He looked good," Rodriguez said, "but the day before he didn’t look as good."
There’s that consistency again.
"No one knows who you are until you screw up," Ragle said. "Our guys need to embrace that. We’re trying to put as much pressure as we can in camp."
That includes air horns to the ear and last-second timeouts in order to make the kickers feel comfortable with the uncomfortable.
"Nobody’s perfect, but as a kicker you have to be," Skowron said.
Skowron likes the pressure. He’s defied the odds to get here, becoming a walk-on for a major Division I program after failing to make the team on his first attempt during the Mike Stoops era, serving as a manager of the women’s soccer team while playing soccer for UA’s club team and then deciding to give football another try.
"I thought I did well, but I never got the call back," Skowron said of his tryout when Mike Stoops was the coach.
He said he was encouraged to return for a second tryout by UA soccer player Autumn Lockwood, daughter of Arizona receivers coach David Lockwood.
"Club soccer wasn’t the (competitive) atmosphere I thought it would be," Skowron said. "It was too informal."
The competitive nature of football is exactly what he was looking for.
"I’ve been used to having people breathing down my neck in making things right," he said, smiling.
Skowron says he’s completely transformed his technique from his previous tryout.
"The form transition has been drastic. I’m a completely different person now," he said.
Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez said after practice Friday that he had nothing to announce regarding his starting quarterback for next week’s opener against UNLV.
"I don’t really have a plan (to announce)," he said. "We’ll talk about it this weekend with coaches. If we have a clear-cut starter on Tuesday, Wednesday will say it. But I don’t feel the need to say anything."