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Provo • Riley Stephenson got his redemption in last year's bowl game. Now the BYU punter stands ready to do more if that's what it takes to help the Cougars have a successful season.
With junior kicker Justin Sorensen yet to do any kicking through five preseason practices as he tries to battle back from back surgery last winter, the special teams spotlight has swung a bit to Stephenson. The senior was one of the heroes in BYU's 24-21 Armed Forces Bowl victory over Tulsa because he placed seven of his eight punts inside the 20-yard line, making up for a horrible performance in a loss to TCU.
Can Stephenson make field goals, and perform kickoffs, if called upon?
"Absolutely," he said. "But I think it is too early to say that right now. I am not going to say I am going to be the field-goal kicker, because Justin is still here. He's trying to work out his back issues. I don't want to say, 'I am the guy' and then Justin comes back and he's good to go."
Will Sorensen be good to go?
That's been the big question hounding BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall and special teams coach Nick Howell for several months now. Sorensen, who injured his back while lifting weights last season, was scheduled to have an MRI on Tuesday, having met with Mendenhall on Monday to discuss his options.
Redshirting this season "could be an option," Sorensen acknowledged. "It's not the kicks themselves that bring the pain, it is the experience afterwards. It is just intense pain, sharp pain. A dull, throbbing pain, I could probably handle."
Sorensen has done some kicking the last month, he says, just not in practice.
Monday, Stephenson was 2 for 3 in the first field-goal attempts of camp, while backup quarterback Taysom Hill, a kicker in high school, made a 25-yard field goal and a PAT all while Sorensen watched from the sidelines.
"I let Riley know in January that he would need to be ready to go as the kicker, just in case," Sorensen said. In 2011, his first season back from an LDS Church mission, Sorensen was perfect on his PATs (48 for 48) but made just 15 of his 25 field-goal attempts and was 0-for-3 on FGs longer than 50 yards.
Asked Tuesday whether he still hopes that Sorensen can kick for the Cougars this season, coach Bronco Mendenhall replied: "Yeah, hopefully in the opener [against Washington State on Aug. 30]."
If not, Stephenson insists he's capable.
"When I was at [Pine View High School in St. George], I did all three, and I enjoyed it a lot," Stephenson said. "I would be happy doing it, but I am also OK if Justin recovers and does his thing."
Last year's backup kicker, Brian Smith, quit the team, so the Cougars brought in walk-on Scott Arellano. The transfer from Foothill College in California is listed as a punter, but Stephenson said he can also kick field goals and extra points.
"Honestly, nobody really knows for sure whether Justin can do it," Stephenson said. "My mindset is that I will be ready, just in case. You always want to be ready."
Riley Stephenson in 2011
• Punted 47 times for 1,985 yards, a 42.2 average
• Did not have a punt blocked
• Placed 20 of his punts inside the 20-yard line
• Fifteen punts traveled more than 50 yards