Erik Powell's journey from walk on to scholie kicker at Washington State

PULLMAN -- Washington State kicker Erik Powell is the epitome of hard work and perseverance and he's not your average college football kicker. Powell is a former stud soccer player who turned down many opportunities to play at the next level who may have even had pro potential. But when high school came to an end, Powell stuck with his gut and took a gamble on his future.

Powell, who will be a fourth-year junior this season, didn’t start playing football until his junior year at Seton Catholic College Prep, where he earned first-team all-league honors his final two seasons. He wasn’t getting recruited out of high school anywhere near the rate that he was with soccer, but says he knew that he had what it takes to play football at the D-I level.

“At first, my intention was to try out for the Timbers’ academy team and get noticed that way," Powell said. "They really wanted me to try out because they thought that I had a good chance at making the team. But that all changed after I went to kick at WSU’s high school camp. Then that’s how this whole thing really started.”

Powell had a knack for scoring goals as a high school soccer player. He was named first team all-league in all four years at SCCP and first team all-state as a senior. As a senior, he scored 49 goals and was named the league’s Most Valuable Player. He picked up a full ride to play at Western Washington, as well as walk-on offers from Oregon State and University of San Francisco. He also received interest from the Portland Timbers academy team.

Powell had always watched college football growing up, though he never thought that he would ever play on the gridiron. He knew what a big deal it would be to play in the Pac-12, and Washington State was the school calling his name. Powell says he was confident he could one day become the starting kicker for the Cougs, and eventually earn a scholarship. So he took the risk and put soccer behind him, walking on at WSU as a true freshman in 2013.

Three years later, Powell solidified his job as WSU’s starting kicker in '15 and was put on scholie at the end of last season. But were there ever any doubts?

“My first year redshirting, going through all the workouts and not traveling, sometimes I was like, ‘Why am I doing this?' I also thought at times that it would have been cool playing soccer -- but I probably would have had the same thoughts about football if it were the other way around," said Powell.

As a second-year freshman, Powell appeared in 11 games mostly on kickoffs and was the starting placekicker in only two games, going 2 of 5.  But he didn't get discouraged, stuck it out and worked on his craft, and has now emerged as one of the most respected leaders on the team.

As a kicker, it's difficult to be a guy that can set the bar, a guy who can look eye-to-eye with the teams’ top athletes. I can tell you from my two years in a Cougar uniform (2014-15) that Powell is a guy who leads by example. He is one of the hardest workers on the team, and he's surprisingly fast.

“I think it really does help -- mentally, going through Midnight Maneuvers and all of the lifts," said Powell. "I think it does translate over to kicking in regards to mental toughness. I think when you're going into a program like this as a kicker, you can easy tell yourself that you don’t need to do this because it doesn’t help you. But for me, I feel like it's just my competitiveness. You know, if I’m going to do it, I might as well do it 100 percent and try to be the best at it.”

APART FROM THE mandatory workouts and practices, Powell does extra work on his kicking game three times a week. During the offseason and throughout the year, he works on balance and core strength twice a week. He also does yoga twice a week during the summer and three times each week during the season. Its all about being completely prepared for when a big play opportunity comes up.

Speaking of big plays, rewind to October 31 of this past season. The Cougs trailed 30-28 in the rain against No. 8 ranked Stanford with 0.04 left on the clock. Powell had already tied the school record for field goals in a game (5). Now, he had a 43-yarder to win it, break the school record and move WSU into first place in the Pac-12 North. The kick went wide right. But Powell kept his composure and poise throughout the rest of the season (20-26 field goals, 49-49 extra points).

“The support of the team and the fans was great and I think that definitely helped -- but as a kicker, that’s your dream," said Powell. "You dream of hitting a game-winner like that. And making those five field goals was nice, but it would have been extremely cool to make the last one. Also, you have to forget about it or else it will affect your next kick. Everyone misses kicks, and it sucked that it happened to be the game winner, but you kind of get over it.

"I’m not going to lie, I still think about it probably every day. But I don’t let it affect my confidence as a kicker or my mental approach moving forward. I think now being in that situation, I’ll know how to handle it better so it was a good learning opportunity. Hopefully I will get another chance like that.”

Powell praised Eric Mele, saying the Cougs' special teams coach had a lot to do with keeping him mentally sharp.

“I definitely think he was a key factor that whole next week after the Stanford game. He’s a really good coach, and good with keeping us positive. He really helps with our focus. For example, just concentrating on your steps leading up to kick the ball. Things like that just really help you get back to focusing on the next kick," said Powell.

THE NEXT KICK that will matter most for Powell, he said, will come in August as he fights to keep his job this upcoming fall camp. One thing he wants to work on is his confidence in being the presumptive starter headed into fall ball. He said he doesn’t want to get comfortable, and that Mele does a really good job of maintaining that competitiveness among the kickers during practice. The way WSU's practices are set up, they force a lot of pressure on each kicker. Stats are recorded each day.

Powell said another of his goals is to be more consistent from 40-plus yards. He also wants to get more distance out of his kickoffs.

“I really want to get more touchbacks to help out the kickoff team by giving them a break,” said Powell.

Fall camp and the upcoming season will show how far Powell has come from last season. Cougar fans are expecting big things from the Cougs this year, and kickers are no exception.

“At first it was hard for me seeing all these other kickers getting scholarships, but anyone can attest to the fact that once you get here it really doesn’t matter," said Powell.  "If you make more kicks than the other guy, if you’re better than him, you will start.

"If you look back, Andrew Furney, Jason Hanson, Ryan Lindell, they were all walk-ons and were really good kickers that went to the NFL. Scholarship or not, you shouldn’t be down on yourself or negative about it. Plenty of walk ons have come into programs and beaten everyone out.”

--Powell ran a 4.69 in the 40 in high school. He estimated he's in the 4.6 range these days.

--Powell's top three moments from last season: Going 3 for 3 in the Rutgers win, the special teams MVP award in the Sun Bowl, being told a week after the Sun Bowl that he was going on scholarship.

RELATED STORY: Coug kicker earned his scholarship

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Skyler Cracraft spent the past two seasons at Washington State as a defensive back, walking on in 2014. His younger brother River is a star wideout entering his senior season. Skyler also hails from Trabuco Canyon, Calif., but prepped at Tesoro High unlike his brother (Santa Margarita High) where he posted 67 tackles with five interceptions in his senior season. Skyler is in Pullman covering the Cougs for CF.C this season.  

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