Sebastian Villarreal boots a 37-yard field goal as Houston beats Cincinnati in double overtime, 41-38. LSU edges Vanderbilt in 1997 after a blocked PAT as time expires. And who can forget last year's Iron Bowl when Auburn came back to beat Alabama 18-17 on a 39-yard field goal with 27 seconds left.

One of the most overlooked aspects of a winning football team is special teams. Every season, at least one game comes down to the play of the kicking game.

Two major parts of on-the-field success are directly related to the kicking game: field position and scoring. While offenses and defenses get fans excited, the kicking game is just as important to the coaches.

That said, the Houston Cougar kicking game will be closely scrutinized as the season opener approaches.

The Cougars will rely on a new punter and kicker when they begin the season at Cal on Saturday.

UH will be without the services of honorable mention All-American kicker Villarreal and punter Ignacio Sauceda this year.

Villarreal converted 76.2 (16-21) percent of his field-goals, which ranked him among the nation's top 10 in 1997. Sauceda averaged 41.1 yards on his punts, pinning the opposition inside the 20-yard line 19 times last season.

Those cavernous shoes will have to be filled by senior Mike Waddell, sophomore Ivan Luna and freshman Joey Saavedra.

Waddell will make his debut as the UH starting kicker while Luna and Saavedra split the punting duties.

As of Wednesday, however, head coach Kim Helton had yet to name the starting punter for the Cal game.

A walk-on to the team, Waddell perhaps has the toughest assignment in following Villarreal's accuracy and consistency.

"There is always a little pressure, but I know I can do the job.

"I had plenty of pressure situations in high school. You can't worry about missing a field goal. You just have to go out and do the same thing you do in practice," said Waddell.

In assessing both punters, UH head coach Kim Helton said, "Saavedra's a little quicker, a little better athlete, and he gets the ball out a little faster. Ivan's a little bit longer and a little bit higher with the punt."

Ivan Luna is looking forward to a season in which the three Cougars will face stiff competition. And although all are vying for starting spots on the roster, Luna said the competition has only helped.

"All three of us have become very close. We're close, but we're also competitive, which in turn, helps us out because it keeps us motivated," he said.

On most teams, the kickers are usually isolated from the rest of the squad. They are not expected to hit as hard, read defenses or make a block. However, when called upon, they are expected to deliver.

"You can't let the big-game pressure get to you," Waddell said. "If it does, it will overwhelm you."

One of the 'perks' of being a kicking specialist is getting to tackle a returner if they get past the rest of the kicking team. Most kickers usually embarrass themselves in feeble attempts to take down a speedy runner, but Luna thinks that stereotype is going to change.

"I'm gonna do whatever it takes to keep them from scoring. If that means wrapping them up, so be it."

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