One of the biggest losses from 2012 for the Brigham Young Cougars is punter Riley Stephenson. His powerful (45.4 yards per punt) and precise punts (30 inside the 20-yard line) were game changers for BYU. The same problem faced the Cougs 30 years ago.
In 1982, Mike Mees set a school record by averaging 45.6 yards per punt. Mees, however, was a senior and would not be back for the 1983 season. That caused LaVell Edwards to turn to Lee Johnson--a junior from The Woodlands, Texas. Johnson proved to be all that Mees was and then some.
Johnson's first game with full-time kicking duties was a homecoming game. Baylor University in Waco, Texas is three hours northwest of Johnson's hometown. While Steve Young got a lot of attention for his fabulous one-man show on offense, Johnson made his presence known. On four punts, he averaged 52.5 yards, including a long of 54 yards.
The Baylor game was the first of five games in 1983 that Johnson would average 50 yards or more per punt. In at least seven games he would have at least one punt longer than 50 yards (no data was available for longest punt in the UTEP game).
Johnson followed up his impressive debut with another solid outing in game two against Bowling Green. His long was 56 yards, and he finished the game with a 49.5 yard average on two punts.
The next two games, Johnson punted a total of one time (zero against Air Force, one against UCLA for 38 yards). Keeping his powerful leg bottled up led to a record setting performance in game five at Wyoming.
Against the Cowboys, Johnson set BYU and NCAA records. He had a season and career long 80-yard punt, which was the longest in BYU history. Add to his record setting boot two punts over 60 yards (63 and 62), a 53-yard bomb, and a "mediocre" 44-yard punt, and Johnson finished the day with a 60.4 yards average on five punts. That set a new NCAA record that still stands today for highest average yards per punt in a game.
A shanked kick hurt his average the next week against New Mexico (2 punts, 26.5 YPP, long 46), but he was back to form against San Diego State with his only punt being 57 yards. Johnson matched that 57-yard average the next week against Utah State, however, he had three punts versus the Aggies. His long was 62 yards. In a tight game that BYU scored a touchdown in the final minute to win, Johnson's exceptional punting and how it impacted field position might have been the difference in the Utah State game.
During the final three games of the regular season, Johnson continued to excel at his craft. At UTEP he had 3 punts with a 48.3 yard average. His only punt against Colorado State was for 40 yards. Punts of 52 and 48 yards gave Johnson an even 50 yard average in his first rivalry game with Utah.
Johnson's Utah performance was also good enough to give him an astounding 50.6 yards per punt average on his 24 punts for the season. It was a full five yards better than Mees' school record average the year before. Unfortunately, the Young-led Cougar offense was too efficient 30 years ago, so Johnson didn't get enough punts to qualify for the NCAA standings. If he had, his 50.6 average would have been the best in the nation.
In the Holiday Bowl against Missouri, Johnson added one more 50+ yard punt to his resume--a 56-yarder as he averaged 42.7 yards on three punts.
The power punting by Johnson 30 years ago was a surprise weapon that helped make the 1983 Cougar squad very dangerous. Hopefully, history will repeat itself in 2013.
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