The importance of Cracraft's other job

WHEN THE WSU DEPTH CHART was released just prior to fall camp, many Cougar fans probably glossed right over his name -- even though he is the only starter listed at the position. He's also a starting receiver, but that's not what we're talking about.

River Cracraft, Washington State's starting "Y" receiver, is also listed as the Cougs' holder this season.

And his responsibilities on bended knee will be more significant than most fans might think. No one ever looks at the holder as the game's hero but that's sometimes the case -- especially when lots of points scored. The more kicking opportunities, the greater the margin for error.

How important is the holder? Just ask WSU's Collin Henderson (1999-2002), who held for Drew Dunning for three years.

Henderson told CF.C a good long-snapper is critical to the equation. The really good ones can snap it to the holder, consistently, with the laces out, they know how many revolutions it will make before it gets there and it's the same velocity time after time.

"And then kickers want that ball in the same spot, every single time, laces out with a little tilt," said Henderson, who used to ever so slightly tilt the ball towards himself for the right-footed Dunning. "It's about timing -- everything is about timing for them... I used to find a mark, like a white strand of field turf, and I would put it down on that mark every time where Drew wanted it."

But no matter how good the long snapper and holder might be, (and WSU has a good one in Alex Den Bleyker, chances are Cracraft and Den Bleyker will face challenges. Hopefully, it won't be as difficult a situation as what happened against Cal in 2001, when Henderson was holding on a 37-yard try.

"I catch the snap and it was a little low and I kinda fumble it," says Henderson. "So I grab it with my left hand in the center of the football, usually you hold it by the tip of the football. I held it with my hand on the laces in the center of the football and pulled my hand away right as Drew kicked it.

"And he kicked a perfect field goal. It was a miraculous field goal and no one, not even the coaches, knew what happened. A split second later... and it's shanked into one of the lineman."

Kickers tend to get all the glory for the makes, even on tries like that, while the holder gets none. And so Cracraft, like Henderson before him, will be largely anonymous as the Cougs' holder this season ... right?

"I must say, Drew is the career record-holder for most points at WSU (for a kicker, 336). And I had a lot to do with those points, come on!" says Henderson.

As both a holder and position player, Henderson also faced another challenge.

"During practice or pre-game warm-ups, I couldn't warm up with everyone. I had to hold first," said Henderson.

Meanwhile, a 2013 study by aerospace researchers at North Carolina illustrated that kickers aren’t always at fault for missed tries – the way the ball is placed determines where the ball goes.

If the football is tilted 20 degrees to the left for a 45-yard field goal attempt, the study found, the ball will sail up to 3 1/2 feet to the left before hooking back to the right.

With the wide hashes in college football, the ball doesn't always start off in the middle of the posts. And if the football hooks or slices 3 1/2 feet at the outset due to a 20-degree variance in how its held, it might not come back by the time it reaches the goal posts -- especially on a short try.

How many field goals have you witnessed that missed by 3-4 feet or less? And how many potential game-winners have you seen made or missed by 3-4 feet or less?

Not all of those are due to a bad hold or bad snap, of course. But some of them are.

This will be Cracraft's first year as the Cougs' holder. Reserve QB Austin Apodaca is gone.

The good news is that Cracraft showed off some great hands last year as a true freshman receiver.

And with WSU also fielding a new placekicker this year, Cracraft will be called upon to adroitly use those hands at two positions this season, not just one.

Henderson likes the idea of Cracraft being the guy.

"I think it can be tough for a backup quarterback, who is coming in (cold). Guys that have good hands, and are touching the ball a lot and playing throughout the game like a wide receiver, I think that's an advantage to have someone like that holding," said Henderson.

NOTABLE NOTES:
  • Henderson started 28 games for WSU at receiver and also served as the holder for three years and returned punts. He was WSU's trick-play QB, and he was nothing short of exceptional -- completing 11 of 12 passes for 575 yards and 6 TDs. On our 10th anniversary, CF.C named him the Most Versatile Cougar Player of the Decade. And former WSU assistant Robin Pflugrad once told CF.C that if the Pac-10 ever would have had a first team "most valuable versatile player" award, he would have nominated Henderson all four years. Henderson is now a territory manager in the medical equipment industry.

  • "When we went to FieldTurf, I knew it was a bad kick if I got rubber in my face -- because the kicker's foot would grind on that FieldTurf and the rubber would get all in my face. If you see the holder spitting rubber, odds are the field goal is going to be a miss," Henderson said.

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