NORMAN — Jay Boulware wasn’t specific about why or when the worrying began, but he remembers two years ago becoming nervous that he’d put too much on Austin Seibert’s plate.
In 2016, Seibert started handling all three phases of Oklahoma’s kicking game. He left a 53-yard field goal short that led to a Houston touchdown. He missed a chip-shot field goal and shanked a punt against Ohio State two weeks later.
OU lost both games, which in September was enough to invite outside blame of any kind blame — but especially on a struggling kicker. Seibert was still just a sophomore.
“Man, I need somebody else. I can’t have him do everything,” thought Boulware, OU’s special teams coordinator.
Seibert didn’t fully regain his groove that autumn. His field-goal percentage dropped from 78 to 68 percent. But last year as a junior he converted 81 percent of his tries and made a career-long kick from 51 yards.
Now with 361 career points, Seibert ranks third at OU in career scoring and is within range of record-holder Michael Hunnicutt’s 450 points accrued from 2011-14. He ranks among the top five in punting average and career field goals made.
Boulware says he doesn’t worry anymore.
“The next year [after 2016] he comes out and he looks better. I go, wait a minute, he’s getting better at this. He’s not getting worse. Now I look at him and I go, whoa, this kid is elite at all three of these,” Boulware said.
Seibert’s 42.3-yard punting average ranked third in the Big 12 last year. Now he figures to contend with Oklahoma State’s Zach Sinor for first with Texas punting whiz Michael Dickson in the NFL.
Dickson performed his job like few can. He pinned 42 punts inside opponents’ 20-yard line and 36 were of 50 yards or more. No one in the Big 12 came close to the Ray Guy Award winner.
But Dickson was responsible for one phase.
Seibert handles his jobs well, but there are no real advantages to having one specialist, OU coach Lincoln Riley said, other than the fact Seibert has few opportunities to lose focus on the bench. He’s too busy.
Statistically, Seibert’s field goals (makes and misses), point-after attempts (including the end zone), kickoffs and punts last year covered 10,309 yards.
“You would definitely rather have a couple of guys handling [all kicks] and be able to focus in on it,” OU coach Lincoln Riley said. “It's easier to really push their workload throughout the week to the exact things they're gonna do, but when a guy's doing all three, you've gotta be very careful and we learned that, I think, two years ago. We've done a better job for him.”
Seibert was a central figure in last season’s Rose Bowl loss. He was asked to perform a squib kickoff near the end of the first half and it went awry, leading to three Georgia points. In double overtime he had a field goal blocked.
The field goal Georgia’s Lorenzo Carter smacked his hand against was a product of Carter’s athleticism and a loose seam in OU’s protection. But the squib, a call that was questioned, could have been struck better, OU coach Lincoln Riley said.
A lot is asked of OU’s kicker. It doesn’t go unnoticed.
“I mean, he was awesome last year. Everything. Punting, field goals. Kickoffs, obviously, is one of the elite guys in the country,” Riley said. “I thought there was a huge jump from the previous year to that year, just in his overall production.”
Boulware is impressed with where Seibert’s at as a senior with OU opening the season Saturday against Florida Atlantic (11 a.m., FOX).
“He’s looking really good at punting,” Boulware said. “He’s looking really good obviously at kickoffs, field goals. His ball is straight, it’s high. His get-off times are good on both field goals and punts.
“He’s really a top-notch guy. I think he’s the best combo guy in the country by far. I don’t think it’s close.”