Football special teams looks to fill void from last season
Last year opponents usually caught the kickoffs at the 20-yard line and ended starting their drives from around the 30 or 40.
This season opposing teams don't even get to catch the ball off the kickoffs, instead always starting from their own 20-yard line
Junior college transfer Michael Johnson of Sun City has earned the kickoff duties for the Wildcats with a tremendous leg.
Johnson had six kickoffs Saturday against Iowa - all of them reached the endzone for touchbacks.
"I have never been in a football game as a coach that there was no return yardage," UA head coach Dick Tomey said.
For his performance against the Hawkeyes, Johnson received honorable mention Pacific 10 Conference special teams player of the week honors.
With the addition of Johnson, the special teams unit has once again reached respectability.
"I believe we have improved the whole kicking game," Johnson said. "No one is going to have to worry about special teams anymore."
Johnson understands what he is here for and why Arizona recruited him in the first place.
"I'm just pleased the way I have been able to perform. I just wanted to get in here, do the kickoffs and prevent runbacks," he said.
And that is exactly what he has done.
Unlike last year, when Oregon's Saladin McCollough returned the first kickoff of the season for a touchdown, the Wildcats' opponents have not managed a long return in three games.
"He is doing exactly what we thought he could do; it is not a surprise. We knew a lot about him and it was clear that he had what we were looking for," Tomey said.
Johnson was an offensive lineman who played the center and guard positions as well as a punter and kicker for Centennial High School in Peoria.
"I dropped about 30-40 pounds after high school because I wanted to concentrate on kicking when I went to JC," Johnson said.
As for now, Johnson just handles the kickoff duties as junior Mark McDonald handles the field goal and extra point jobs.
"If the opportunity arises for me to kick long field goals I won't complain," Johnson said. "But right now the better guy is in there."
Johnson has gained the respect from the Arizona coaching staff with his long kickoffs, some of which fly out of the endzone.
"I can't expect him to do what he did Saturday night every night, but he will kick like that a lot this season," Tomey said.
For Johnson, he said he is just here to win and do whatever it takes to accomplish that.
"I'm enjoying myself so far. Everything has been good," he said. "We have many more opponents to overcome and we are just taking it game by game right now."
Dan Rosen can be reached via e-mail at Dan.Rosen@wildcat.arizona.edu.