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November 16, 2012

Sellwood shifts focus

Senior punter Sean Sellwood is capping off a stellar career at Utah, and the trouble is, almost no one knows it.

As good or better than Louis Sakoda in many key statistical categories, Sellwood may just be the least popular player on the team, where Sakoda was ... well, King.

What a difference a winning season makes. Scratch that - what a difference a BCS busting season makes. Everything is better when Utah is winning, and when in the midst of a rough patch or down season, negativity reigns.

Sellwood takes it all in stride, understanding that his efforts on the field are paramount to having success on a team who is in dire need of any advantage possible, small or large.

Any player at any level over and above high school will say he's happy to play his role and will do whatever it takes to help the team, and Sellwood is no different.

"I can't focus on that, and I'm not out here for the credit or anything. I'm part of this team and I'm working hard to try and help them win games," he said dutifully. "What I'm doing out there is important in close games, with the field position and everything. So I just go out and focus and try to help set it up for the defense, which hopefully leads to points, or turns into good field position for the offense."

Said player may or may not be genuine in that sentiment, but just as surely as the famously cliched words are uttered, that player wants the credit and recognition due him. Why not?

While Sellwood is undoubtedly genuine in wanting to play his best for his team, being a bright spot in a season severely lacking in bright spots is still tough.

"I can't really celebrate what I'm doing. I'm proud of the job I'm doing out here, but I can't really take any satisfaction from it when the team is struggling the way we are right now," Sellwood said. "I'm proud of this team, of all the things we've accomplished in my time here. It didn't turn out the way we wanted this season, but we've been through a lot here together. We're going to try and play out of this situation together, and try to get to a bowl game. That's the only focus."

For Sellwood that may never come to pass, because his team sits at 4-6 on the season and can not absorb another loss, though the Utes remain united in their hope, focus and preparation.

For two more games, possibly three, Sellwood will trot onto the field in an effort to help his team out of a few more sticky situations, understanding again, that if he's on the field, something didn't go right.

"What I'm doing on the field is a great thing in a way, but in another way, obviously, it's preferred that I'm not on the field," Sellwood explained his conundrum. "So it's kind of hard, because I love doing what I'm doing, but when the offense isn't producing like it should be it's pretty tough on the team."

A lot didn't go right for the Utah offense this season.

That fact has equated to 55 punts for the Ute special teams unit this season, 34 by Sellwood and 20 by freshman Aussie Tom Hackett, or 5.5 punts per game, putting Utah in the same company as other struggling programs such as Auburn and Colorado.

In order to be eligible for a national individual ranking, punters must average over 3.6 per game, but due to splitting time with Hackett, Sellwood falls short of the required minimum number of punts.

If he qualified, Sellwood would rank third in the nation in punting average with 47.3 yard per punt. Through the first nine games of the season, Sellwood was ranked either first, second or third in the nation before becoming ineligible in the tenth.

Sellwood is currently tied with Sakoda for the school record in punts over 50 yards, sitting at 50 in his career. Fourteen of those booming punts came in 2012-2013. Sellwood's career 8,169 punting yards, good enough for fourth best in school history, and with 186 total punts, Sellwood ranks fifth all-time in school history, needing just four more to move into a tie for fourth place.

Even as Sellwood's statistics impress, he discussed the process of dealing mentally with the bittersweet situation that finds him individually successful with his team struggling mightily.

"You know, you've got to find a way to look at it in a positive light. With just a little shift in perspective or focus, it's a positive," explained Sellwood. "You've got to look at it [that way] or it gets you down, and right now, we can't afford to get down. We've got to win that field position battle and my job is to give [our defense]our team the best field position. I can't let down in those situations."

Still, it requires extra effort to temper the residual enthusiasm stemming from his impressive career, and season and just as much to not let pressure in key situations affect him, especially going into the two key contests which will determine whether or not the Utes will go bowling, or miss out on post-season play for the first time in ten years.

"You can't let yourself get too high, or too low and you definitely can't let yourself think about the pressure," explained Sellwood. "You've got to keep a mellow-head, show no emotion, so it's tough. Rather than focusing on me, or on all those other things out there, I have to block it all out so I can focus on the one important thing, which is finding ways to help my team."

With that in mind, Sellwood has indeed found ways to help his team by shifting his focus to the field position aspect of the punting game. Always important and critical, a sputtering Ute offense only puts more pressure on both special teams, and the defense. Like Hackett, Sellwood is sometimes required to lay off a kick in attempt to drop the ball inside the twenty yard-line - even if it means staying out of the spotlight.

"That's just what my team needs from me at times, and I'm happy to oblige. Right now, things are tough, the best thing I can do is help give our defense a good starting place," explained Sellwood. "I think I'm doing a pretty good job, but punting, in a traditional sense isn't the priority. So its just a shift in focus and priorities where it isn't about me or long kicks, or stats but instead about team and the whole, bigger picture."


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