Kyle Dugandzic says his first three months of college have been "a dream come true," even if the Arizona Wildcats special teams have been downright nightmarish since last fall.
Arizona's new punter has a chance to secure a starting job this spring with virtually no competition. He's playing Division I football for a team that's within a day's drive of his Agoura, Calif., hometown.
And Dugandzic is in rarified air - literally. Tucson's dry climate and 2,300-foot elevation is a punter's dream; the ball goes farther, and hangs up longer, every time Dugandzic launches a kick.
"There's definitely a big difference in the air since I'm used to kicking down by sea level," he said. "Here, I notice I get extra yards on my punts."
Coaches are hoping Dugandzic's right leg can lift Arizona out of a special teams funk.
The Wildcats' final two games of the 2010 season were decided, at least in part, by botched special teams play. Place-kicker Alex Zendejas missed two PATs against rival Arizona State, one of which would have lifted the UA to a dramatic win at the end of regulation.
Bug Wright's muffed punt and Zendejas' two missed field goals ruined any chance Arizona had of winning December's Alamo Bowl game against Oklahoma State. The Cowboys rolled 36-10.
Coach Mike Stoops vowed to overhaul the special teams during the off-season, starting with the kickers. Zendejas and John Bonano have battled for place-kicking duties this spring; a third candidate, junior college transfer Jaime Salazar, will join them this summer.
Stoops and special teams coach Jeff Hammerschmidt both expect it to be one of the toughest battles in camp.
"We still have to find someone who wants to be our starting kicker, and we want to find a guy who wants to be our starting punter," Hammerschmidt said. "Right now, we're hoping Kyle wants to be our starting punter."
Dugandzic starred at Ventura Community College as a sophomore, earning All-National Division Northern honors. He led all California junior college kickers with punts inside the 20-yard line and punts of more than 50 yards.
Dugandzic, 19, has spent most of the spring working on directional punting, a skill that Hammerschmidt says is just as important as having a big leg. Former UA punter Keenyn Crier was blessed with a powerful leg but often struggled with accuracy. Dugandzic doesn't boot the ball as far, but is more precise.
"In pre-game warm-ups, Kyle's not going to kick it 80 yards," Hammerschmidt said. "The pooch-punting goes into your net, too. If you're not doing your job pooch-punting, your net's not going to be what it is."
Dugandzic said he's eager to change Arizona's recent reputation.
"Everyone keeps saying how special teams were an issue last year," he said. "I want to come in and make a statement and show that last year was just a fluke."
• What: Arizona spring game
• When: 1:30 p.m. Saturday
• Where: Arizona Stadium
• Admission: Free