Walking the Line, Kicking for the Win

They stand aloof from the rest of the team. Whether on the practice field or on the sideline, the two players joke around and laugh while stretching and warming up their legs. Off the field, they couldn’t seem more ordinary. Two regular guys just trying to make it through their senior years of college, relishing each day and not thinking too much about the future that fast approaches.But when it comes to what happens during the game, Utah State punter Peter Caldwell and long snapper Patrick Scales are anything but ordinary college students.The leaders of USU’s special teams, Caldwell and Scales are all business when it comes to their duties on the gridiron, anchoring the oft-overlooked third aspect of the game which the Aggies hope to ride to victory during the 2010 season. “They are excellent,” said USU special teams coach T.J. Woods. “Having two seniors in those critical spots, at the end of the day our special teams is going to go where those guys go.””If they are having good games and Pete is kicking the ball well and Pat is snapping it correctly, than we’re in good shape,” added Woods.Caldwell and Scales may not get the publicity that USU’s other senior stars receive, but they are no less important in the team’s quest to return to the postseason. Forget nailing a game-winning field goal and bailing red-zone frustrated offenses out of a jam, the art of punting and snapping can also literally change the direction of a game. Whether through setting up important field position scenarios or putting the defense in a position to frustrate opposing offenses, the rare skills that Caldwell and Scales possess are held by only a few players across the college football landscape.Those skills, if not properly executed, can also quickly swing momentum in favor of the opposition or doom a team’s chances for the rest of the game. A bad snap here or a shanked punt there, and suddenly things don’t look so promising for the Aggies.”They only know your name if you mess up,” Scales said ominously.For all their worth on the field you would think kickers, punters and snappers would get more love off it. Yet they are often the target of jokes from fans and teammates, who mistake their relaxed practice atmosphere and sideline isolation for laziness.According to Caldwell, it’s a stereotype not completely rooted in fiction. “We play a really important role, but a lot of it is, ‘you kind of get what you deserve,’” said Caldwell, who enters his senior season with the fifth-best career punting average (42.2 yards per punt) in school history. “There are a lot of kickers out there who don’t work very hard, so we all get the appearance of just being lazy.”Caldwell may not be running wind sprints or diving for hail mary’s, but he and the rest of USU’s specialists are anything but lazy. “Our specialist group is out there working,” Caldwell said. “We may be off on our own, but when it comes to game time we’re prepared.”Scales, who originally came to USU as a walk-on tight end, agreed. “It’s definitely not as rigorous as some of the other positions, but there is still a lot of pressure on you so you have to perform to your utmost ability,” he said.Granted, preparing for a punt or a long field goal is a bit different than preparing to throw a pass or make a tackle. Oftentimes more mental than physical, it takes a special kind of individual to be able to perform a single task before tens of thousands of screaming fans, especially when the outlook of the game could be altered with a botched snap or misplaced kick. Fortunately for USU, Caldwell and Scales have mastered not only the technical skills behind snapping and kicking, but the mental component of the tasks as well.”When you’re asked to do one skill, and in a high pressure situation, I think that the importance of the mental aspect of the game is heightened,” said Woods, who leans heavily on Caldwell and Scales to manage the entire USU special teams unit.”At the end of the day it is more mental than it is physical. Those guys do a great job of putting themselves in the moment at practice so they are prepared mentally for that time when it comes in the game. When it comes, it isn’t a nerve-wracking situation because mentally they’ve visited that place multiple times throughout camp and practice.”Mentally preparing for the duties of snapping, kicking and punting is a fine line between practicing the necessary actions and visualizing the upcoming moment. It’s not an easy line to walk given the confined nature many specialists have on the sideline, which can cause many punters and snappers to become overly self-conscious and nervous while they await their chance to see the field. The key to staying prepared, said Caldwell and Scales, is adapting a relaxed attitude on the sideline while keeping an even keel when called to perform on the field.”You’ve got to kind of keep it relaxed. If you’re uptight the whole time you’ll end up going out there and not performing as well as you can,” said Scales, who played his prep ball at Weber High School in North Ogden.Caldwell credits his friendship with Scales as a major reason why the two work together so well on the field. Caldwell, who was a semifinalist for the Ray Guy award (given to the nation’s top punter) last season and was on the preseason watch list this year, has been working with Scales for the past three seasons, and has complete trust in his teammate to deliver the ball on time and on target. “Trust is really important on the field,” Caldwell said “If we don’t trust each other it’s not going to work. I’m lucky in that I’m really good friends with Pat, so if something goes wrong we can talk about it. But the nice thing about Pat is that nothing usually goes wrong — I’ve been here for four years and he has had one bad snap the entire time.”Aside from handling the punting duties this season, Caldwell will also kick field goals and PATs for the Aggies. Kicking isn’t completely new to him, as he went 10-of-12 on field goals in 2008, while also handling the punting for USU. The combination of kicking and punting may sound like a lot to handle for the 6-foot-4 senior from Kaysville, Utah, but it’s a challenge that the self-described “perfectionist” isn’t shying away from. Not only that, but it’s a challenge which he’s hoping will present him with the moment every kicker dreams about: nailing the game-winning kick as time expires.”I’ve never hit the last second game-winning field goal,” said Caldwell, who has accomplished much in his USU career, including being named to no less than four preseason all-WAC teams this summer.”I would love to do that this year. To be able to run out there with all the confidence in the world and just knock the ball in, I would love to kick that,” Caldwell said.As for their futures, Scales graduated last spring with a degree in finance and is currently in the USU Master of Business Administration (MBA) program. Caldwell is on track to graduate with a history degree this summer. However, the business world may have to wait for these academic all-WAC performers for a few years, as both Caldwell and Scales plan to pursue a professional future on the gridiron.”There are no guarantees in life, but I think if you measure either of those guys up with the rest of the kids in college football, they can stand in any group,” said Woods. “In any NFL combine or in any tryout, they can stand right next to anybody in the nation.”And in a year where seeing and believing will be the focus for rebuilding the Aggie program, USU is fortunate to have the services of the two young men who can walk the mental line between victory and defeat and come out on top.-USU-

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