Utes' Sakoda adjusting to newfound fame

Posted by ESPN.com's Graham Watson
Louie Sakoda wouldn't call himself an overnight sensation, his rise to fame and popularity has been gradual.

Sakoda, Utah's star kicker and punter, was an All-American last year, but he started to become a household name after making four field goals, including the game-winner, against Michigan at the Big House to begin this season.

In the seven weeks since, Sakoda has made 11 of 13 field goals, including the game-winner against Oregon State, and has become sort of a cult idle, earning the name King Louie.

Sakoda said the nickname was initially given to him by a group of Utah gymnasts, who then shared it with some of the local media. The nickname was published and it stuck.

Look out into the bleachers of Rice-Eccles Stadium and there are signs bearing Sakoda's nickname. People yell it to him across campus while he's walking to class. And he said even when he's in the grocery store, employees and patrons are quick to meet and greet royalty.

"You know, I don't mind it," Sakoda said. "I don't mind being royalty. It's pretty cool and it's made me big man on campus a little bit. Obviously, not just the nickname, but the way the season's gone. It's been an interesting year on campus and off campus. It's been fun though."

Sakoda has been Utah's most consistent weapon. He's made field goals as long as 53 yards and put points on the board when the rest of the offense was struggling to do so.

Sakoda is a perfectionist. He's spent hours tweaking his kicking in the indoor facility, which he calls the doctor's office, trying to become the most accurate kicker in country. He worked several kicking camps this summer and said teaching younger players the basics of kicking allowed him to get a refresher course as well.

Earlier this season, Sakoda, a senior, became Utah's all-time leading scorer.

Currently, he leads the nation in most points scored by a kicker, and defensively, his punting has pinned opponents inside its 20-yard line 13 times in 33 punts. He's also had seven touchbacks and seven fair catches.

Sakoda admits that his newfound fame is a little strange. After all, he's not the quarterback or the star running back, he's a kicker, and kickers bear the stereotype of being the low man on the totem pole.

And Sakoda's been there. In past seasons, Sakoda was regarded as another cog in the machine and not an integral part of the Utes' success. But with every kick Sakoda makes, or every punt he pins inside the opponents' 20-yard line, his teammates are starting to come around and show their appreciation.

Kicking the game-winning field goal as time expired against Oregon State kept the Utes undefeated and just added to the legend.

"Performing on the field along with more seniority, I'm getting more respect from the players," Sakoda said. "With the close games it really proves how big a part special teams play. Not just field goal and punts, but we're leading the nation with kickoff coverage and our punt return game has been doing pretty well for awhile. I think everything with special teams as a whole is getting a lot more respect."

The coaches respect what Sakoda brings to the team as well. During Mountain West media days in August, coach Kyle Whittingham brought quarterback Brian Johnson and Sakoda as his player representatives. Several Mountain West officials said Sakoda was the first kicker to participate in the event.

And now, he might be the first kicker to become the big man on any campus. Sakoda will be celebrating his 22nd birthday this weekend -- the Utes are idle this week -- and he has a feeling he'll have a few more "friends" there than he might have had otherwise.

"It's kind of a different scenario," Sakoda said. "Brian still gets all the attention a quarterback should get, but he always gives me crap about sharing the spotlight a little bit. All I do is kick a ball and for some reason people love what I do. You can't be too mad at that."