Competition has been kicked up a notch out at Cooke Field.
UH, which no longer had a do-it-all leg maestro like Rigo Sanchez in 2017, posted a kickoff distance average of 57.7 yards, compared to 62.2 for opponents. UH made four field goals all season, in nine attempts.
This fall, UH has a whopping five players competing for the starting placekicker job: Ryan Meskell (Jr.); Michael Boyle (RFr.); Alex Trifonovitch (Jr.); Nino Alibegic (Jr.); and Kekoa Sasaoka (So.).
New special teams coordinator Michael Ghobrial has set an active itinerary for the kickers at each practice. Meskell, an Australian who handled kickoffs last year in his first real experience with American football, has enjoyed the competition.
“I’m looking forward to the battle to win the position, and if I do win the position, getting out there and performing for the team,” Meskell said Monday, after the third practice of camp. “It’s an open competition at the moment. Gobi’s told us that whoever performs the best in camp will get the nod, so right now it’s a matter of just going day by day, honestly. Don’t think too far ahead, just each day come out here and be the best kicker on the park.”
Trifonovitch, a Punahou alumnus, handled point-after-touchdown attempts last year, going 33-for-35. He and Meskell split the field-goal attempts (Meskell was 1-for-4 and Trifonovitch was 3-for-5).
The way Ghobrial sees it, it’s unlikely UH will split its kicking duties this year, unless it becomes necessary. He wants someone to win it outright.
“Guys are really pushing each other. There’s some authenticity to helping each other as well,” said the former defense and special teams coach at Tarleton State (Texas) who arrived in Manoa a week before spring practice. “They … understand only one guy’s actually going to be out there as a kicker. But they understand the avenue where we want the team to go is reliant on how productive we can be as a kicker. So they’re going to push each other and support each other. After the first few days I’d say everybody’s gotten better. There’s no definitive starter right now, but guys are going to continue to compete and show me what they got.”
Meskell has appreciated the amount of time and feedback he gets with Ghobrial; last year, special teams coordinator Mayur Chaudhari split his time with the defensive ends.
At Ghobrial’s urging, Meskell — a goalkeeper growing up — studied professional football kickers. He zeroed in on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Chris Boswell, who came from a similar soccer background.
“All summer I worked hard on field goals. I feel a lot more confident going into this season than I did last season,” Meskell said. “Just working on consistency. I never had a problem with power. It was just a matter of getting accurate. Been working a lot on accuracy and I feel it’s coming together pretty well.”
Ghobrial, who is big on “relentless effort,” wants Meskell and the others to feel heat besides just the baking sun at Cooke Field.
“I’m a big believer in creating competition,” Ghobrial said. “So I wanted to bring guys in who would push the potential starters. Might even earn the spot. I think that’s what we do by creating depth at that position; it’s just going to raise the level of everybody’s abilities.”