The importance of Cougs' kicker verbal

IT USED TO be schools including Washington State would develop their placekickers via the walk on route. That's changed. Indeed, consider this: What do Washington State, Notre Dame, USC, Miami, Michigan, Stanford, Texas A&M, Missouri and Oklahoma all have in common?

Every one of them has a kicker among their verbal commitments this class.

Add into the equation that schools can no longer oversign, that they're spending one of those 25 precious scholarship offers on a kicker, and it becomes crystal clear just how much importance Mike Leach and other highly-regarded coaches place on kickers.

More and more games, including high profile games, have been decided in the last few years by a made or missed field goal. And a deep -- or well-placed -- kickoff is a valuable weapon in the all-important field position game within the game.

Kickers have become bigger and more athletic -- future Cougar Matt Abramo out of Petaluma, Calif., is variously listed as either 6-2 or 6-3 and 170-190 pounds.

More importantly, they've gotten better at their craft.

In 1978, Division I-A (now FBS) placekickers made 58.8 percent of all field goal tries, according to Sports Illustrated. A quick Excel of the 2013 stat book shows that percentage has soared in the years since, to 75.0 percent last year.

Now consider that FBS teams attempted 2,326 field goals last season - that's a whole lot of scoring opportunities.

And as SI notes, those improvements came despite two rule changes that made college placekickers' jobs harder: banning the use of tees beginning in 1989, and narrowing the width of goalposts in 1991 by five feet, to the NFL's standard (18-6).

No one knows for sure how any recruit will pan out when it's all said and done in 4-5 years. And Abramo has some work to do in order to become elite where field goals are concerned - he made 10-of-16 field goals last year with a long of 44-yards. But Abramo, says kicking guru Chris Sailer, also has perhaps the strongest leg in the nation.

He had 52 touchbacks on 65 kickoffs last year as a junior at Casa Grande High.

And that's a powerful edge to have in an incoming freshman at a spot where more and more value is being placed.

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