Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Fans generally aren’t thrilled when the punter is having arguably the best game of anyone in uniform.
There were certainly other UNLV standouts in last week’s 30-27 triple-overtime loss to Minnesota — running back Tim Cornett and linebacker Tim Hasson come to mind — but senior Chase Lansford was on another level. Well, at least as far as punting goes.
“The first game has really given me the motivation to be one of the best in the country,” Lansford said.
And while you never want to see a lot of the punter, especially in a game like Saturday’s home tilt against Northern Arizona at 7, having the best one sure wouldn’t hurt.
Against Minnesota, Lansford kicked seven times for an average of 49.4 yards. With so many kicks his total yardage, not surprisingly, was among the best in the country (7th). Still, he had the lowest number of attempts of anyone in the top 11 and his average also ranked seventh in the nation.
Lansford came to UNLV last year after starting his career at Santa Ana College, a junior college in his home state of California. His father, Mike, spent nine years (1982-90) as an NFL kicker with the then-Los Angeles Rams, where he played his entire career under former Rebels coach John Robinson. Mike led the league in extra points in 1989 — he was a perfect 51-for-51 — and ended his career having connected on 72.8 percent of his field goals.
Lansford kicked field goals at Santa Ana, but he’s found a different niche at UNLV. He handled the punting and kickoffs against Minnesota. This summer he said he mostly dropped placekicking from his workouts to focus on punting, even going so far as to bring in a punting coach.
Last year he averaged 41.2 yards on 75 attempts, which was the fourth-most punts in any UNLV season. That’s obviously not a good thing, but if that’s going to be the case it’s better to have someone back there who can change field position.
“I feel like that’s my job,” Lansford said. “When the offense doesn’t get the first down I need to be there to back them up.”
At the beginning of the second quarter against the Gophers, Lansford kicked from the visitors’ 48-yard-line and buried them at the 2. His biggest kick of the day came early in the third quarter. UNLV started the second half at its own 23 and stayed there after three straight incompletions. Lansford responded with a 58-yard boot that flipped the field, putting Minnesota inside its own 20.
“Field position, especially in a defensive battle, is a big thing,” UNLV coach Bobby Hauck said. “And it was probably one of the key contributing factors to us being in that game at the end and having a chance to win it.”
Hauck is also the Rebels’ special teams coordinator, so he’s got a closer eye on the kicking game than most head coaches across the country. After watching Lansford in the spring and fall workouts, Hauck expected a start like this.
“I don’t think that was a surprise to anybody here,” Hauck said.
Lansford started his career with a 56-yard punt against Wisconsin, and in UNLV’s disastrous 41-16 loss to Southern Utah he had a career long 66-yard punt. With another Division I-AA foe coming to Sam Boyd Stadium, fans would probably prefer Lansford just keep his leg fresh on the sidelines while the offense works to improve in its second game with freshman quarterback Nick Sherry at the helm.
But if and when a drive stalls out of field-goal range, at least the Rebels know they’ve got a weapon swinging away.
“I want to be the best at what I do; the best for this team and for the program,” Lansford said. “This season is our turnaround season so I might as well do it this year, my last year.”