While sitting in my seat in the north end zone at LaVell Edwards Stadium two weeks ago, I looked at my brother in-law and said, "what just happened to our kicking game?"
I had a flashback to Riley Stephenson in the 2012 Poinsettia Bowl against SDSU, and then another flashback to Matt Payne in 2004. I could see the legendary Lee Johnson standing on the BYU sideline, and the flashbacks continued. It's been quite a while since I was this excited about the Cougars kicking game -- and I owe it all to Scott Arellano.
Arellano travelled a bumpy road getting to BYU, a path that highlights the BYU walk-on tradition.
The 6-1, 187 pound kicker began his career by playing intramural flag football at BYU-Idaho. His punting, however, far surpassing the intramural level, left Arellano feeling that he was meant for bigger things. The first bigger thing was to play for Foothill College, where in addition to punting he also played defensive back, recording four interceptions during the season.
The next bigger thing happened when his coaches at Foothill college contacted Nick Howell at BYU, informing him that they had an LDS punter the Cougars might be interested in. Arellano was invited to walk on, and began working on his punting game with the assistance of Lee Johnson.
After spending his sophomore year on the scout team, Arellano got his first chance to show Cougar fans what he was capable of last year, kicking a total of 80 punts with a 41-yard average. Among those were a 59 yarder against Utah, and a 73-yard bomb against Wisconsin. He was really put to work against Virginia, punting nine times for 368 yards, four of which he placed inside the 20-yard line. His performance in that game led to his being named the FBS Independent Special Teams Player of the Week.
That brings us to 2014, and to my exclamation of pleasant surprise at the Cougars vastly improved kicking game. Four games into the season Arellano has punted 15 times, including a 64-yard kick in the win against Texas, and a 65-yard boot against Virginia. He's currently averaging 47.2 yards per punt, with 9 inside the 20, and 8 for 50+ yards to give BYU a nation-leading punting game.
The bumpy road that brought Arellano to BYU seems to be getting less bumpy as he moves along. He earned a scholarship this spring, and things are looking good both on and off the field. He credits his success to his wife, who he describes as the backbone of their family.
"There were times when I seriously wondered if it was worth it," said Arellano, as quoted by Jay Drew of the Salt Lake Tribune. "But I never thought hard about quitting, because I want this really badly. I want to be good. I know the potential I have, and I am just waiting to showcase it."
The Cougars are 4-0 for the first time since 2008, and the efforts of Scott Arellano should be recognized as a key component to that. When asked about Arellano's performance against Virginia two weeks ago, head coach Bronco Mendenhall responded, "It might be one of the best performances by any punter since I've been here."
Upon entering the media interview room at LES Arellano joked, "I didn't know this room existed. It's really cool. I'm happy to be here."
I have a sneaking suspicion that he's going to see more of that room as the season continues.