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This article was published 10/8/2010 (3450 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The winds of change have once again blown through the Winnipeg Blue Bombers locker-room.
The Bombers switched import placekickers before practice at Canad Inns Stadium Tuesday, cutting ties with Alexis Serna around the same time they announced the signing of Louie Sakoda to the practice roster. Previously with the Saskatchewan Roughriders as a punter (Sakoda was released last week), the Blue and Gold get a kicker who was a consensus first-team All-American with Utah in 2008 and leaves the Utes with an impressive 86 per cent (57-of-66) field-goal average.
One worry: Sakoda hasn't lined up for a field goal since his senior year, a layoff that could be angled as a bit of a gamble by the Bombers organization.
"He kicked at a high level at a major Division 1 college and he hit three of five from 48 to 50 yards, and one of them hit the crossbar (during practice)," Bombers head coach Paul LaPolice said, responding to the risk factor. "We have an understanding of him."
Despite spending his time in Rider Green as a punter at the tail end of last season (working with members of the current Bombers coaching staff), the 23-year-old from San Jose considers himself a placekicker first and he's not too concerned about kicking in Winnipeg's famous gale-force conditions or lining up in front of Winnipeg's demanding fan base.
"At this level, everyone has a certain level of talent and it's really the mental preparation that separates everyone," said Sakoda, whose last field goal came in a 2009 Sugar Bowl win over Alabama (Jan. 2, 2009). "You just have to hone in your mental game. That's been the biggest thing I've been working on."
LaPolice has no doubt Sakoda can handle the psychological aspect of the gig.
"Kickers — how do you tell if they're mentally tough?" the coach asked. "I had a coach who used to say, 'Just bring 'em in a room and punch 'em all in the face and see which one fights you back.' "
More surprising than that old-school evaluation process is the fact the club is just handing the job over to Sakoda without competition. LaPolice was straightforward with his answers when that topic came up, indicating that the player who used to occupy the kicking position was no longer trusted on the field.
Once the Serna misses started piling up, the coach admitted to changing his attack strategy as the season went on, choosing to reject long field-goal attempts in favour of punting and hoping to pin the other team deep.
"I don't know if there's anything Alexis could have done this week that would (put) him in a position to kick for us this week," LaPolice said. "Our staff, and myself, just didn't have a lot of confidence in his abilities."
Serna, who hit nearly 82 per cent of his field goals for the Bombers in 2009, missed two short field goals, from 28 and 32 yards, in Saturday's 29-22 loss in Hamilton and has been good on just eight of 14 (57.1 per cent) this season.
The 25-year-old Oregon State grad was disappointed he didn't get a chance to compete for his job in practice this week, but wasn't sure if he'd get a fair shake even if he came out on top.
"It doesn't surprise me, let's just say that," Serna said. "It was just a situation where I felt I had to make all of my kicks. There will be times where you struggle and you fight through those... Unfortunately, I didn't have another week to do that."
A perturbed LaPolice took issue with the accusation that he wasn't fair with Serna.
"I would totally disagree with that statement. We didn't even bring anyone else in (at training camp)," the coach said.
The Serna release marks the second time in two weeks the Bombers have snipped a veteran after a loss (linebacker Ike Charlton was let go following the Calgary defeat in Week 5). LaPolice shot down the suggestion of a pattern forming in the football operations department — that a change will be made if a player has one bad showing.
The placekicker move was coming even if the Bombers won in Hamilton, LaPolice indicated.
"We didn't cut him on losing a football game," the coach told reporters. "Every time (we) lose a game, you're not going to be cut. It's happened two weeks in a row and that's a coincidence, I would say. You make decisions based on your process, not on your end result."
Today's Bomber report C3