The UC Davis football team has a big three this year — just not the kind you would expect.
In a season marred by inconsistency, the Aggies have had few constants. One of them has been the combined performance of punter Colton Schmidt, long snapper Joey Waters and kicker Brady Stuart.
The trio is the major reason why special teams has been UCD’s strongest area through 10 games. Stuart, a redshirt freshman, has thrived in his first full year as place kicker, connecting on 12-of-17 field goals with a long of 44 yards (against Idaho State). He nearly had a 50-yarder against Portland State, but the ball, which looked like it had the lift to go 60 yards, was just outside of the uprights.
Schmidt, a senior, has been even more impressive. In his final year at UCD, he is averaging 44.1 yards per punt, putting him on pace to break his own school record of 42.3 set last year. He’s also landed 21 punts inside the 20 yard line and had 29 touchbacks (on 55 attempts) while handling kickoff duties.
And then there’s Waters, who has played a major role in the success of both Stuart and Schmidt. His accurate snaps and solid blocking have allowed the two kickers to focus solely on getting the ball down the field.
“It’s nice to have each other’s trust,” Stuart said of his rapport with Waters. “I don’t have to worry about where he’s going to snap the ball.”
Waters’ ability to put the ball where he wants it has not only been incredibly valuable to the Aggies, but incredibly entertaining. In practice, Water has snapped balls into trash cans and shopping carts, sometimes from 25 to 30 yards away.
That accuracy has been the product of years of hard work. When Waters played at San Clemente High School, he used to spend hours working on the technique of long snapping with teammate Evan Jacobson — now the long snapper for the University of New Mexico — and Jacobson’s father.
When it comes to long snapping, Waters’s mind-set is to “try to clear my mind (and) stay as calm as possible.”
“(My focus) is getting the snap to Colton or Brady,” he added. “(Then) trying to be explosive after the snap.”
Waters, according to UCD head coach Bob Biggs, is “the guy who goes unnoticed often times.”
“You can just count on him,” Biggs told The Enterprise earlier this year. “Each and every time, the ball is going to be right where you need it and that’s why our times are so good and it really negates any opportunity for people to block our field goals, PATs and punts.”
In fact, neither Schmidt nor Stuart has had a kick blocked this year.
The quickness and accuracy of Waters’ snaps gives both Schmidt and Stuart the time to focus on getting the ball off just right. For Schmidt, that means high and wide.
“You try and hit those super high punts every time,” Schmidt said.
UCD uses a directional approach, meaning Schmidt attempts to land the ball inside the right or left sideline and in doing so “reduce the return.”
It’s worked. Aggie opponents have returned only 16 of Schmidt’s 46 punts this year for an average of 5.1 yards.
“I’ve always felt my placement has been (my best aspect),” Schmidt said.
Schmidt, who is being scouted by NFL teams, has been known to kick punts of 70 to 80 yards in practice and says he has even kicked balls the length of the field, “if you count the roll.”
He had a 68-yard punt against Portland State on Oct. 27, and his average is sixth in the Football Championship Subdivision.
Off the field, Schmidt and Waters have served as mentors for Stuart.
“I was pretty nervous about hanging out with them,” Stuart said. “But they took me under their wing.
“Even in school, too, Colton has been really helpful.”
Their support helped Stuart get through the first part of the season, which he described as being “rough.”
He missed on an extra point and a field goal attempt against San Jose State in Week 2, before finally hitting his stride two games later when he connected on field goals of 39 and 41 yards against Cal Poly.
“My team had my back and everything,” Stuart said. “I showed up and I made the two (field goals).”
Since then, Stuart has been solid, with his best game coming against Weber State on Sept. 29. That day, he made three field goals and was perfect on extra-point attempts.
He’s also become a go-to guy off the field for the Aggies — for iPhone repair.
Stuart was constantly dropping his phone while at West Ranch High in Newhall and eventually cracked the screen. As he put it: “I had to figure something out.”
Using the Internet, he taught himself how to remove cracked screens and replace them with new ones.
“My brother was like, ‘You can probably make some money off of this,’ ” Stuart said.
After Stuart fixed several of his Aggie teammates’ phones — for the cost of new screens — he started getting more and more requests.
“Every Monday I try to do a new phone,” Stuart said.
No word on whether he’s fixed phones for Waters or Schmidt, but the three are close nonetheless.
“I love our group. For us, it’s always fun,” Stuart said.
Added Waters: “We’re all pretty tight. It’s really nice to have those guys out there to work with.”
— Will Bellamy at email@example.com