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Cal Football

Longetto Looks to Build on Successful 2021 Season

May 29, 2022

After the 2020 short season was derailed by special teams play, not to mention the early 2021 season, as well, observers of Cal’s spring ball saw a much different looking special teams unit take the field at Memorial Stadium, particularly at kicker.

Low trajectory kicks like the two that were blocked in the 2020 Big Game gave Cal fans indigestion thinking about what could’ve been. 2021 saw an improvement in that area, with redshirt soph kicker Dario Longhetto conveting 11-rof-14 field goal attempts (78.6% -tied for third in the league) and a perfect 31-for-31 on PATs, tied for first in the league. Longhetto’s elevation, better snaps and better blocking all helped get those numbers up last season.

This spring, the increased leg strength and elevation was even more noticeable, with long field goals clearing the crossbar by 10 yards plus and shorter ones sailing well over the tops of the uprights.

“Our strength staff does a great job of geting us built physically over the off-season and I think that contributed a lot to my success coming in here, going to be in my fifth year as a kicker,” Longhetto said. “I would say a lot of lifting, plyometics, stretching, all that stuff along with the mental game of, ‘I’ve been in here,’  getting more comfortable, and being able to get the kicks through, get them up and get them high, I think all contributed to being succesful. “

At least part of the credit for Longhetto’s improvement can be attributed to the coaching of OL coach Angus McClure, who has taken over placekicking and PAT coaching duties on special teams.

“Angus is great. It’s awesome he’s out there with us. He definitely emphasizes a lot on the operation and getting everything as a group, being together as a unit. It’s not an individual thing,” Longhetto said. “It’s the line, its the snapper, it’s the holder, it’s everything; so Angus does a great job of getting us all too work cohesively and get our times and get the kicks off.”

“Those guys have really been working hard in the offseason,” said McClure. “I don’t know how many times I’ve walked by the tunnel and seen them out there working.”

McClure noted that he and grad assistant Michael Barton have been their primary kicking coaches, something he’s no stranger to in his career.

“I've been doing it for a long time,” said McClure. “I did field goal unit at UCLA and had Kai Forbath and Ka’imi Fairbairn. We didn’t have a pure special teams coach there, either. Both of them won the Lou Groza Award (awarded to the top college football placekicker in the country).”

The placekicking and kickoff duties are divided this season, with new outside linebackers coach Vic So’oto overseeing kickoff duties.

“We have Coach So’oto and Angus, and they both deal differently with the formations, getting all the guys running the right plays, blocking the right people,” Longhetto said. “It’s been great. Coach So’to came out here this year, first year. He’s awesome. We love him. And then its Angus’ third year now. Great guy, too, hes awesome. So I would say its a good system we have going now.”

Another element to the kicking game that’s seemed to help is ball placement, with the staff adjusting to the struggles they had with blocks in recent years by moving the holder back further from the line of scrimmage.

“We switched during covid year halfway through, and we’ve just stuck with eight yards. I’m pretty sure thats usually what they do in the NFL, too, so if my phone ever gets called, its just something else where you get to say, ‘I don’t have to swtich when I go to the NFL, I’ve been doing eight yards for awhile now,’” Longhetto said. “Its not that much different honestly than seven yards, its more mental than anything, just like kicking is in general.”

Not lacking in confidence, Longhetto expressed confidence in his abillty to convert at any distance the Cal staff might consider testing him in game situations. 

“I’m comfortable with them sending me out there for anything at this point, wherever they want to throw me out there,” Longhetto said. “If I got the wind behind me, I think I could probabaly put something through beyond [60 yards] as well.“

The redshirt junior was asked if he’d have to do anything different if his number were to be called for an extra long field goal attempt.

“The interesting thing about kicking, which is very unique to the position, is that whether you’re kicking a PAT or you’re kicking a 60-yard field goal, you’re gonna be kicking the same power, same thing. You’re not doing anything extra becuase the ball is supposed to go straight and high,” Longhetto said. “Its just everything you do, whether its from the weight training to the stretching to the technique to the mental game, that all contributes to you being able to make all your PATS and kick a 60-yard field goal.”

Kickoff distance started strong last season for Longhetto but whether from a potentially tired leg or techique the distance and consistency seemed to wane a bit as the year went on. The goal this season is to maintain better depth througout the season, something they’ve been working on during the offseason and during spring ball.

“Its been awesome. We’ve been working on that a lot, a lot of technique stufff, and its been great,” said Longhetto. “You know getting back and getting better than we were last year. Every day, we’re trying to get better and be the best version of ourselves.”

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