TALK ALL YOU want about wide splits, the sand pit and all the rest. Here's something that's really different at WSU since Mike Leach became the head coach: the Cougs have offered scholarships to two placekicking prospects in the span of six months. That's notable because you can count on one hand the number of scholarship offers WSU has made to kickers in the last 40 years.
One of those scholies put forth by Leach went to Mike Bowlin
, who arrived on campus in January and will be kicking off for the Cougs when they start the season in Provo on August 30.
The other offer was placed last Sunday by special teams coach Eric Russell
at the feet of Cameron Vanwinkle
, a senior-to-be from Snoqualmie.
Bowlin, a JC transfer and one-time Oregon kicker, threw a hammer down on the kickoff job during spring workouts. His emergence is more than welcome, because last season the Cougars managed just one touchback in 70 kickoffs. He's also expected to be the Cougs' punter given his sterling work there this spring.
Vanwinkle, meanwhile, comes highly touted out of Mount Si High, where he hit 16 of 18 treys last season and has range well into the 50s. The Cougs are his first offer, but he's been hearing from most of the Pac-12, including lifelong favorite Washington, as well as others.
JOE DANELO, PICTURED HERE CIRCA 1973, WAS THE FIRST WSU KICKER TO MAKE A 50 YARDER.
Bowlin and Vanwinkle represent a dramatic departure from the way kicking talent is normally handled at Washington State. Incumbent WSU field goal and PAT specialist Andrew Furney
is a case in point. He was invited to walk on and then earned a scholarship once he proved his mettle. That's also the way it was for such luminaries as Jason Hanson
, Rian Lindell
, Drew Dunning
, Tony Truant
, Paul Watson
and Don Sweet
, among others.
In fact, until Graham Siderius
in 2001, Washington State is believed to have gone a full 30 years -- all the way back to legendary Joe Danelo
of Gonzaga Prep -- between scholarship offers for placekickers who hadn't walked on first.
Until Bowlin's arrival this year, the only one after Siderius was Loren Langley
That makes for a pretty finite fraternity. Until now, it would seem.
The long-held theory in college ball is that you can find a kicker somehow, some way, and then provide the scholarship once you know you have a keeper. Why take a chance right out of the shoot when, for example, you could instead grab a linebacker with that class slot who not only can play defense but also serve on every special teams unit as well?
As he does in so many ways, Mike Leach takes a different approach.
NOTABLE COUGAR KICKING NOTES:
The walk on kicker who made the biggest immediate splash at WSU -- despite never scoring a point -- was Adam Holiday, who arrived in Pullman as an invited walk from Moorpark JC in 2001. He proceeded that season to put 52 of 80 kickoffs into the end zone, with 35 of them being touchbacks. The next season, with a scholarship firmly in hand, he worked similar magic. Not coincidentally, as Mike Price once pointed out, the Cougs won 10 games in each of Holiday's two seasons in crimson.
ADAM HOLIDAY IN ACTION AT 2003 ROSE BOWL.
No Cougar player at any position has been named to more first-team All-America squads in a single season than one-time walk-on kicker Jason Hanson, who as a sophomore in 1989 was the top kicker on eight different All-America teams. The next-closest Cougar is offensive lineman Mike Utley, who was tabbed first-team All-America on six squads in 1988.
Just how talented was Hanson? So talented that he was first-team All-Pac-10 at both kicker and punter in 1990. So talented that he set the NCAA record for longest field goal without the use of a tee, 62 yards, vs. UNLV in 1991. He turns 42 this month and this fall will enter his 21st season in the NFL as the Detroit Lions' placekicker. He holds the all-time NFL record for most field goals of 50 or more yards, (50).