Special teams are an important part of football, but when it comes to recruiting, it is easier to be excited about landing a big time safety or running back than it is hauling in a big time long snapper or kicker. Utah fans may be more spoiled than most, enjoying All-Americans Louie Sakoda, Shaky Smithson, and Reggie Dunn. The 2014 Utes team features All Pac-12 caliber Tom Hackett and Andy Phillips, with a potential emerging star in return man, Kaelin Clay. With Chayden Johnston on board, Utah looks continue the trend of talented special teamers.
Johnston may be one of the best five kickers in the country. I have evaluated Johnston twice now and both times he displayed an NFL caliber leg with pinpoint accuracy. In a scrimmage against Lehi and Herriman, Johnston was perfect on his field goals and made 42 yarder seem like a walk in the park. This past Thursday, against Herriman, the future Ute channeled his inner Louie Sakoda and put on a show. Johnston punted like a Pac-12 caliber punter and kicked field goals like somebody who could be playing on Sunday’s. He boomed 7 punts for an average of 45. 1 yards and drilled a 48 yard field goal. I was standing 5 yards beyond the goal post, and watched the ball sail 10 feet past me. Through two games, Johnston has connected on a 42 and 48 yard field goals, he is averaging 43 yards per punt (12 total punts), and he is drilling the majority of his kickoffs through the endzone.
Johnston possesses everything you would want in a field goal kicker. It is clear he comes from a soccer background. Every time he kicks, the ball violently explodes off his foot. His PATs travel about 45 yards on average. It is apparent that Johnston loves sending the football into orbit. He told me that he embraces the pressure and loves knowing that a game could come down to his leg. He is also a big fan of Andy Phillips and is motivated by his success.
“Andy Phillips is a huge weapon for the Utes,” Johnston said. “He is doing great things. The shoes I'm going to have to fill are getting bigger and bigger. I'm excited to fill those shoes. I love pressure. Andy doing so well only pushes me to work even harder. I cannot wait to wear red, but for now I am in blue, and I am going to bring whatever it takes to win another state championship.”
Like Phillips, Johnston is going to be a true weapon at the next level. He is currently a shredded and lanky 6 feet 160 pounds. His size may be the only fault you can find in him right now. Once he starts working out at the U and packs on 20 pounds of muscle, his leg is going to become even stronger. It’s a scary thought after watching him kick the ball against Herriman. Johnston is set to begin his collegiate kicking career in 2017 after taking his mission. This is ideal for Utah, as Andy Phillips will be graduating as Johnston arrives.
Johnston isn’t a 4.4 track star, he can’t bench press 405, and he isn’t ever going to draw much publicity, but he has the kind of leg that could win some football games. Utah has had some superb kickers and a few infamous kickers, smart money is on Johnston joining the first group.