Mental homework has helped Gagnon get ready for bigger role | NevadaAppeal.com

Mental homework has helped Gagnon get ready for bigger role

Darrell Moody
dmoody@nevadaappeal.com

Brandon Gagnon spent the 2015 football season punting and watching intently the play of fellow cornerbacks Caulin Bartley and Spencer Rogers.

The mental study paved the way for a successful spring camp and a starting cornerback job for the upcoming season, which kicks off on Aug. 27 at home against Desert Mountain of Scottsdale, Ariz.

“The biggest improvement is in the mental part of the game,” Gagnon said after Saturday’s practice. “I just watched how they played; the intensity they played with and the way they communicated.“

“Every year you have a senior that starts to step up,” said defensive coordinator Steve Dilley. “You start to see it in the weight room and it carries over to the field. He’s not one of our captains, but he’s one of the leaders of the team.”

Gagnon, who had six tackles last season, believed his two interceptions in the spring game were huge in nailing down the starting spot. Coaches got a chance to see his athleticism in action.

“I showed them what I could,” he said. “I made a couple of nice plays in the scrimmage.”

Besides athleticism, the 5-11 Gagnon gives the Senators some length at the spot.

“I’m not used to having tall guys out there at corner,” Dilley said. “It’s nice. Tall defenders can compete with receivers for jump balls. Brandon has very soft hands and good ball skills.”

A lot of cornerbacks, even in the collegiate and pro ranks don’t have Gagnon’s size.

Gagnon isn’t as worried about jump balls as he is long balls.

“I’m just going to go hard every play, and fly to the ball and make the tackle when the play comes my way” Gagnon said. “I don’t want to get beat deep.”

Dilley said he’s ready to take the gloves off Gagnon.

“In our cover 5, he jams the receivers too much,” said the CHS assistant coach. “I love the fact that he’s very physical, but I want him to be less mechanical and use more of his athletic skills; know when to jam and know when to play off a bit. I thought he would be able to step up and take one of the starting spots in the spring. It was pretty clear in the spring he was going to do that. I like what we have with him. He works extremely hard and is coachable.”

Gagnon was dependable on punts a year ago, averaging 37.2 on 24 attempts, four of which landed inside the opposing team’s 20-yard line.

“He is a great kid,” said kicking coach Jim deArrieta. “He’s dedicated and wants to get better.”

Gagnon said he practiced every day unless deArrieta gave him the day off.

“Most of the time I would come down and kick in the morning, take the afternoon off and then play a summer baseball game in Reno,” Gagnon said. “Last year I started out pretty nervous. I did better last year as the season progressed. Hopefully I can be more consistent.

“I had a couple of bad kicks; shanked kicks that really hurt my average. I think I can be between 40 and 45 yards. There is no way I shouldn’t be. I’ve been working in the weight room on my leg strength, and I’ve been working on my technique.”

One of the things deArrieta sees is where Gagnon is contacting the ball.

“He is hitting the top (front) part of the ball and he’s popping it up,” deArrieta said. “I want him to hit it in the middle or back. He his getting stronger leg-wise.”

Gagnon wants to be a first-team all-league pick this season, and another of his goals is to lead the conference in punting. Hopefully he won’t have to punt much because that means the vaunted Senators’ offense isn’t clicking.

Don’t be surprised if Gagnon catches a few passes this year.

“I’m behind Luke (Myers) and probably Connor (Quilling),” Gagnon said. “I’m not really sure where I stand exactly, but I should get some snaps when we’re in a spread (multiple receiver) offense.”