S. Utah at Oregon
When: 5:15 p.m. Sept. 2 TV: Pac-12
EUGENE — Over the past year, Zach Emerson has had the fortune of learning from the most accurate kicker in Oregon Ducks history.
Emerson, a redshirt freshman from Bend, knows he will likely not take Aidan Schneider’s job as the starting place-kicker for the Ducks this season, but he does hope to earn the job as the starting kickoff specialist during this month’s preseason camp.
“I’m happy with whatever role I have to just help the team this season, whether it’s kickoff on scout team or during the game,” Emerson said earlier this week at the start of camp at Autzen Stadium. “I’m just trying to get that kickoff spot. It has an opening right now. But any way I can support the team and just help the team get better …”
Emerson — a two-time Class 5A first-team all-state forward for the Mountain View High School soccer team — was a preferred walk-on at Oregon last season who eschewed a career in soccer for a chance to kick for the Ducks. He remains a walk-on who is still hoping to earn a scholarship.
Schneider, a senior from Grant High in Portland, was also a soccer standout before choosing to kick for the Ducks.
Schneider has connected on 87.5 percent (42 of 48) of his career field goal attempts and he made 42 of 43 PATs in the 2016 season. Last season’s kickoff specialist, Matt Wogan — who routinely booted kickoffs out of the end zone to prevent a return — graduated, leaving that job up for grabs.
“Last fall and summer coming in was huge for me to learn from Aidan and Matt, two of the best kickers that have ever come through here,” Emerson reflected. “It’s a huge privilege just to be able to work with him (Schneider) and get some pointers from him. He’s helped me a lot, with just a lot of off-the-field stuff as well as on the field. He’s been a huge help for me growing as a kicker and as a person.”
But Schneider said he also wants the starting kickoff job, so Emerson will be competing with his mentor as well as with preferred walk-on Alec Hallman, a true freshman from Lithia, Florida.
“Whether it’s this year or next year, the ultimate goal is work up, get a starting spot, and just eventually hopefully get on scholarship,” Emerson said. “Just work my way up, though, I’ve got to earn it.”
Emerson hopes to follow in the footsteps of Morgan Flint, another walk-on kicker from Bend who bided his time as a backup before earning a scholarship as a senior and serving as the first-string kicker for the Ducks’ 2009-10 Rose Bowl team.
The current Oregon kickers are adjusting to new head coach Willie Taggart and his staff, including new special teams coach Raymond Woodie. Emerson noted that during spring practices the coaches made clear there would be no PAT attempts out of the “swinging gate,” the formation from which Oregon would often attempt two-point conversions over the past few seasons. Instead, the coaches will put their trust in Schneider for extra points. And Schneider might also get more chances for field goals on fourth downs, rather than the Ducks going for the first down as was common under previous coaches.
“On fourth down, I think Aidan will get more opportunities than last year, but I guess we’ll see in the first couple games,” Emerson said.
Schneider said that last season and during spring practices earlier this year Emerson showed a knack for long kickoffs. During the Ducks’ spring game in April, Emerson’s lone kickoff went for a touchback, and he booted a 36-yard field goal.
“He’s done really well,” Schneider said of Emerson. “He really impressed a lot kicking off at practice — that was kind of the thing that stood out at first. He’s really talented and I think he’ll have a great opportunity in the years coming up.”
Schneider added that the two kickers have become close over the past year.
“All us specialists end up kicking a lot together and spending a lot of time,” Schneider said. “Everyone else goes to meetings.”
Emerson, an economics major, said he sometimes misses playing soccer, but he is satisfied with his choice to play football instead of soccer in college.
“I still go out and kick the soccer ball around sometimes, but I’m happy with my decision,” Emerson said. “I’m really happy with this school and this program.”
— Reporter: 541-383-0318, firstname.lastname@example.org