BULLHEAD CITY — City Slickers they are not, so former River Valley High School football players Jake Sammut and Brady Viles are pleased to undergo their next venture as a team.
Sammut, who is a junior and is majoring in behavioral science, and Viles, who is a sophomore majoring in business, signed their letters of intent to attend classes at the University of Texas at El Paso this upcoming semester and to play Division I football with the Miners this season.
Sammut said he visited the UTEP campus in May.
“It was really eye-opening, especially the football stadium,” he said. “The Sun Bowl, which is a well-known stadium, it seats about 55,000, so just being inside of that kind of makes you open your eyes a little bit and reminds you of where you’ve come from.”
The population of Bullhead City is 39,540 people, according to the 2010 census, and the population of Mohave Valley is 13,694, according to the 2010 census. So, Sammut and Viles have made quite a jump.
“I like it a lot so far,” Viles said. “There is almost 1 million people in this city. It’s a completely new experience compared from where I’m coming from Fort Mohave and Yuma. Yuma is like 80,000 — maybe 50 — I want to say.
“Coming from those two places and going to El Paso is a completely whole new experience, but I like it a lot so far.”
Viles described UTEP’s athletic facilities as “amazing.”
“The weight room is definitely bigger than what I’m used to,” Sammut said. “It overlooks the stadium; it’s a really nice deal — and the locker rooms, as well. They are Division I facilities. So, what you hear is what you get. It’s definitely what you’d expect.”
The River Valley products have gotten a taste of some of the perks Division I offers and they appreciate the top-notch facilities.
“From what I’m used to, from coming from the poor field quality where we are from, every thing to turf fields inside the Sun Bowl, it’s unreal,” Viles said. “Every time I get to go out there and practice it’s just so surreal to me.”
Kicking off the turf is “beautiful,” Viles said. “It really is like the best thing ever.”
Viles said he is projected to be the starter for field goals and kickoffs.
Viles’ future began to unfold after completing his freshman season for the Arizona Western College Matadors
“I was at spring practice for Arizona Western in April, and I met UTEP assistant coach Spencer Leftwich,” he said.
Viles said Leftwich told him that UTEP was going to need a kicker and he must have liked what he saw because the next thing he knew, maybe that day or the next day, UTEP special teams coordinator Brian Natkin called him — “and it sort of just worked itself out from there,” he added.
It turned out that UTEP’s kicking team needed more than just a kicker, and that is where Sammut came into play.
The Miners also needed a long snapper, and College of the Canyons, Santa Clarita, Calif., head coach Ted Iacenda just happened to be grooming Sammut.
“Of all of the time that I spent as a player and a coach I’ve never never seen anyone snap the ball to the punter or the holder faster than Jake,” Iacenda said.
When he was asked if Sammut was everything he thought he’d be after completing his sophomore season, Iacenda said, “The places I had played at, the places I had coached at, we never had guys who snapped the ball like that.
“I knew someone was going to want him. The question was — in my mind — was there going to be someone there who would pay him and give him a scholarship.
“That was our only question.”
Iacenda did not have to do very much with Sammut as far as long snapping was concerned.
“Jacob has a God-given gift,” Iacenda said. “We did not have to show him much in terms on how to snap the ball.
“What we did try to make him do was to become bigger, faster, stronger so that he could get more velocity on his snaps and to be an effective cover guy.
“You know, the special teams and to open up that aspect.”
Sammut knows what his role will be as the Miners long snapper.
“(UTEP) had a guy last year,” Sammut said. “He got the job done; he wasn’t the most athletic, so they were excited for me to come in and do the same job but be able to cover more.”
UTEP head coach Sean Kugler is “excited about me being able to cover guys, get downfield and be able to make a play here and there,” Sammut said. “From day one, they told me what they wanted. The times that are needed, and I’m just here to kind of pursue those and get the job done.”
Miners assistant athletics director John Teicher said UTEP’s long snapper was 6-8 and was about 300-plus last season.
Nick Dooley, 6-8, 300, served as UTEP’s long snapper in 2015, according to UTEP’s football roster.
Teicher said Sammut is at the “other end of the spectrum,” but the UTEP coaching staff said “Sammut can run down field and make plays.”
Teicher also described how Sammut might fit into UTEP’s special teams units.
“I think what they’re planning on doing with him is him being the long snapper for punts,” Teicher added. “Then they’re going to see about field goals. They’re not sure if he could hold up physically on placements where guys can crash the middle and pressure the kicker, so we’ll see about the short stuff, but they’re planning on him being the guy for punts, so it’s interesting.”
Teicher said Sammut is listed as 5-8, 170, and according to UTEP’s 2017 football roster, UTEP’s new long snapper will wear No. 51.
Sammut described what he and Viles have been doing in Ruidoso this week.
“The punter is the main thing we focus on, and my snaps are high sixes, low sevens — .6s and .7s,” said Sammut about the fractions of a second it takes him to snap the ball to the punter. “The PATs are hard to keep track of because it’s 7 or 8 yards, and it’s coming in so quick that it’s hard to keep track of — that’s a quick trigger, so the main times we want from snap to kick we want is to sit at a 1.2, so Viles and myself have been actually working on that.
“That’s the thing we just got out of film with, and we need to manage that and get that to where it needs to be before the end of camp.”
Going to a city with so many new people, coaches and teammates is much easier because they are providing each other with a strong support system.
“Jake and I always used to talk about after we finished high school if there is a possibility if we’d ever meet up, but we never really thought that it was ever possible, and now that this is actually happening it’s kind of surreal,” Viles said. “Jake and I have known each other since we were 10 and he was actually my place-holder, snapper and long snapper in high school, and now that we’re here in college at the Division I level it’s like we’ve got that ‘928 Connection.’ ”
When he was asked about the 928 Connection, Viles said that is for the 928 area code.
When asked if the two of them have that connection even after playing at separate JUCOs during the past couple of seasons, Viles said, “Oh yeah, we practice together all summer.
“Even when we were in JUCOs and we had our time off to come home for break, we practice together.
“We’re ready; we’re in sync.
“We’re ready to rock.”
Whenever their Miner teammates ask them where they are from, Viles said, “They say ‘that’s insane’ when we tell them we’re from the same high school.”
Teicher said the UTEP coaching staff was confused when they saw Viles. “They thought Viles was a linebacker,” he added.
Viles will be wearing No. 42 and is listed at 6-0, 210, according to UTEP’s 2017 football roster.
Viles played place-kicker like a linebacker, not a Matador — pun intended — while at Arizona Western.
“I made about five tackles — honestly, I don’t know, not too many,” Viles said. “Most of them (kickoffs) were touchbacks, but whenever they weren’t I was trying to make the tackle.”
Then Viles brushed aside his usual modest disposition and got a lot more up front and personal about how he became a headhunter when the ball was run out of the end zone last season.
“I probably lit up two guys,” Viles said.
“When asked what was the reaction from his teammates whenever the kicker makes a tackle like that, Viles said, “The reaction of the teammates was they’re not used to seeing kickers do that, so they all get really hyped up and just excited.
“Whenever the coaches meet me they ask if I’m a linebacker.”
Matadors head football coach Tom Minnick said Viles has some things to work on, but he has a strong leg.
Minnick said Viles kicked the ball out of the end zone “95 percent” of the time during his freshman season.
“I mean a strong leg like that,” he said, “people want that.”
Arizona Western’s foes did not get many chances to run back kickoffs once Viles became the kicker.
“We had a great job doing that,” Minnick said.
Arizona Western’s head coach said Viles did not start kicking field goals until later in the season, but the Matadors did utilize him for long-range field goals.
“He’s got an extremely powerful leg,” Natkin said. “We view him as a kickoff specialist.
“Right now, he can put them out of the end zone, and he’s done that consistently.
“We’ve been working with his field-goal accuracy, and that is something that a lot of the guys who have strong legs ... sometimes they sacrifice a little accuracy, but he’s been working at it and he’s getting a lot better at it.”
Minnick said Viles’ long kickoffs are the reason why he earned the Division I scholarship.
Minnick said Viles’ field-goal range was “50-plus.”
Viles also established a reputation in the Matadors’ weight room and for making big hits, which kickers seldom do, while on kick-return coverage.
“He’s put together,” Minnick said. “He hung out with our big Australian kids who went to Iowa State and our big fullback who went to (the University of) Texas-San Antonio.
“They hung out together, they loved to lift — and all three of them together, — and Brady looked more like a linebacker than he did a kicker.”
The Matadors featured two Australian defensive linemen who worked out with their place-kicker in the weight room
Matt Leo, 6-7, 265, who now is playing at Iowa State, and Ethan Williams, 6-4, 240, who is still a Matador, were Viles’ weightlifting partners.
The fullback who went to Texas-San Antonio is Devin Rothrock
“We needed a long snapper and we needed a kicker this year,” Teicher said. “So, those guys are going to have great opportunities — that’s for sure.”
After signing his letter of intent Tuesday night, Viles revealed a sense of satisfaction for his new environment.
“I think I’m going to be happy here,” Viles said. “I’m really enjoying it so far.”
Sammut’s, Viles’ training regimen at Camp Ruidoso
w Breakfast at 6 a.m.
w Team meeting at 7:30 a.m.
w Early outs at about 8 a.m. or so.
w Run through early outs
w Individual stuff/fundamentals
w Stretching drills for practice.
w Punt and/or kickoff
w More instruction
w The team gets back to its individual aspects, while special teams goes about its individual work as practice comes to a close. Then, special teams does another session before doing field goals at the end of practice.
w “It’s a seven-day week, constant grind from 6 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., Sammut said.
w Elevation is 7,000 feet, Ruidoso is a beautiful place, lots of green, nice mountains.