KEARNEY — Brian Covarrubias solidified University of Nebraska at Kearney’s placekicking duties as a freshman last season. He was reliable and gave the coaching staff belief they had found their kicker for the foreseeable future.
But when Covarrubias abruptly quit the team prior to spring football, it left a void for the Lopers, who went 5-6 last year and are hoping to improve this season.
Coach Josh Lynn made it known immediately that the Lopers wanted to add a kicker — likely from the junior college ranks — prior to the start of fall camp.
Placekicker Junior Gonzalez, who played at Shasta College in Redding, Calif. last season, committed to the Lopers on May 22 and will compete for the starting spot this fall.
He has three years of eligibility remaining, which played a role in the Lopers’ interest. UNK punter/kicker Kendall Raschein also helped the coaches discover Gonzalez, as they are friends and roomed together at Shasta College in 2017.
Gonzalez selected the Lopers over an offer from Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas.
"I decided on UNK because I got a pretty good offer and it definitely seems like the team is on the rise," said Gonzalez in a phone interview from California. "It just seemed like a good fit for me."
Gonzalez, a Corning, Calif. native, is a first-generation college student and the oldest of eight children. He didn’t receive any interest from four-year universities out of high school, which has given him additional motivation, he said.
After redshirting his freshman season, Gonzalez handled kickoff and placekicking duties at Shasta College last year. He went 3-for-8 on field-goal attempts and 27 for 29 on point after touchdowns. His longest successful field goal was 33 yards.
"It really put a chip on my shoulder to try to show what I can do," Gonzalez said. "It’s always been the goal to go to a four-year university, especially coming out of high school. It made me work hard to try to get my education paid for."
Gonzalez said he’s improved his kicking power and accuracy throughout his two years at the junior college level.
Gonzalez will vie for the Lopers’ starting placekicker spot with Raschein, a senior, and redshirt junior Treygan Gowen. Raschein punted for the Lopers last season. He has a strong leg but featured little consistency throughout spring camp. Gowen was the Lopers’ best kicker during the spring, showing improvement and dependability from any distance. He has attempted two field goals — missing them both — and is 11 for 12 on PATs in his two seasons at UNK.
The Lopers will have to replace Covarrubias, who beat out Raschein and Gowen for the starting spot and went 12 for 17 on field goals and 34 for 36 on PATs last year.
Lopers coach Josh Lynn could not comment on the signing of Gonzalez, as the paperwork isn’t complete.
"I definitely don’t expect to have the job by just going out there," Gonzalez said. "Just like anything, you have to earn it. They told me it would be a battle out there from Day 1, and I just have to remain optimistic, believe in myself and keep my nose down. I just have to do what I have to do."