Leggin' it out

WHEN YOU'RE 8-1, the view of the world is different. The skies are bluer. The burgers taste better. John Blanchette seems kinder. Heck, even Husky fans aren't as obnoxious.

Were it not for that unfortunate ending against Oregon, residents of Planet Coug would indeed be living in a perfect world today. But almost-perfect is still sweet as honey with a possible Pac-10 title awaiting at the end of eight more quarters of football.

Success has many fathers. And this season of crimson redemption is no exception. Pile all the superlatives you want on the bend-but-don't-break Cougar defense, on Jason Gesser's exciting offense and Mike Price's brilliant off-season coaching hires and promotions, but facts are facts: A strong case can be made that the biggest difference between this season of destiny and last year's series of overtime heartbreaks is the placekicking.

Oh sure, you'll get an argument from Aaron Price, the kicking coach, that this 2001 campaign has been built by experience throughout the ranks, tremendous player dedication and commitment, and the greatest intangible of all: Heart.

But that kicking game. No matter how hard Price plays Mr. Humble, you just can't say enough about the kicking game.

Drew Dunning and Adam Holiday -- under the tutelage of first-year assistant coach Aaron Price -- have taken the Cougars to another level. Dunning, a sophomore, is the Pac-10's leading scorer and a semi-finalist for the Groza Award – the Heisman Trophy for kickers. And Holiday's booming kickoffs have neutralized the Pac-10's most dangerous speed merchants. On the season, he's put 37 of 57 kicks into the end zone for no returns; a year ago, the Cougs had only two – count ‘em, 2 -- such kickoffs for the entire season.

And don't forget senior punter Alan Cox, either. Even with a sore knee, he's averaging a solid 39.6 yards per kick, and has put 12 of his 47 kicks inside the opponent's 20 yard line.

"They're just a really good group of guys," says Aaron Price, who also serves as quarterbacks coach. "They're hard working and extremely dedicated. You'll see them out on the field, early in the morning, kicking balls around before anyone else is practicing. There's also a real nice chemistry between them too."

Price knows well where these guys are coming from. He was the Cougars' kicker in 1992 and 1993. He booted the game-winning --- and season-swaying --- field goals in the waning moments of weeks two and three, at Arizona and Fresno State, to put the Cougars on the road to a 9-3 campaign in '92.

To help prepare Dunning for those same type of pressure-packed moments, Price says he puts some good-natured pressure Dunning every Friday.

"At the end of practice, we make him kick a field goal from an unspecified distance . . .it's like a 30-yarder or something. Anyway, if he makes it, the whole team gets to eat prime rib and shrimp for dinner. If he misses, they get the regular, ordinary dinner," Price says.

Has he ever missed?

" Not yet," says the proud coach, grinning.

Here's what else Aaron had to say:

What's it like working for your dad? Is it tough knowing that your dad is also the boss?

AP: Believe it or not, it was a pretty easy transition for me. I got early exposure to his coaching style in high school and in college so trying to get acquainted with it now is nothing new to me.

Do you think he's a little bit harder on you than some of the other coaches? Has he ever chewed your rear end?

AP: (Chuckling) Nah, not really. Like I said, I'm pretty used to his style and manner. I know what's expected of me. The only time I could remember being in trouble was during my freshman year. Without going into too much detail, let's just say I violated a team rule . . .I was suspended for week. He really laid into me!

After you graduated in '94, how did your coaching get started?

AP: I played a year in the CFL before I decided to head back to Pullman and work underneath my dad as a graduate assistant. I spent the next two years there until I was able to land a job with a division-II school, Missouri Western, as a special teams assistant.

A year later, I wound up at Idaho State as their quarterbacks coach. However, once I learned that there was an opening at WSU, I was headed for home! I felt kinda' bad though . . . Jeff Banks who was a kicker on our '97 Rose Bowl team, was hired on as the kicking coach at Idaho State -- just about the same time I was leaving. We never really had a chance to work together.

What are some of the keys to becoming a (good) college kicker?

AP: You've got to develop leg strength -- a lot of it! Most college kickers have a soccer background of some sort. You also need to possess a tough work ethic and be extremely focused. Some of our guys will go out and spend countless hours, all by themselves on the field, just kicking. Finally, you need to be accurate. Only the top high school kickers will become college kickers.

What was your fondest moment as a kicker?

AP: Definitely, the 47-yard game-winner against Arizona (in '92)! What are your career ambitions? Are you interested in coaching college, or perhaps someday, in the pro's?

AP: I'd like to continue coaching at the collegiate level. Eventually, I want to become a head coach. Right now though, I really enjoy coaching the QB's and kickers at WSU.

Andrew Ogilvie is a 1994 WSU graduate, who majored in communications with a stroke on advertising. As a Cougar athlete, he was a three-year letterman on both cross country and track & field teams. He now lives in Seattle, where he works for the only major airline based on the West Coast.

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