Cougar kicker gets lessons from the master

PULLMAN -– Cougar placekicker Romeen Abdollmohammadi, aiming to put a vise grip on the starting job he claimed at the end of last season, spent two days last month in Dallas working with a special teams guru who is connected to some of the best legs in the nation. The coach says Abdollmohammadi has what it takes to excel, and Romeen himself is already seeing the benefits.

"He's very goal-oriented, a hard worker doing everything he can to improve," Rocky Willingham told CF.C on Monday. "He's really a good kid -– very coachable. He has a strong leg, but he got a lot more accurate while he was here."

Willingham (no relation to Tyrone), spent eight hours on the field and another three in the film room with Abdollmohammadi.

"We break it all down, in backward order, starting with the contact and follow through, then to one step, two steps and the full kick," Willingham said.

It wasn't easy, said Abdollmohammadi, likening the tweaks to what a golfer goes through when changing his swing.

Later this summer, the 6-0, 228-pound Abdollmohammadi plans to head back to Dallas for a quick refresher.

"If he sticks to the routine -- working on very specific drills that break kicking down into segments and promote muscle memory -– then I look for very good things from Romeen this season," Willingham said. "He's got the focus and work ethic."

Abdollmohammadi, who walked on at WSU a year ago after a prep career in which he attempted (and missed) exactly one field goal attempt, said his kicks are now getting up faster and flying higher. His accuracy, especially from 45-yards-plus, is better in large part due to a skipping, or hopping, motion introduced on his follow through.

The impetus to seek Willingham's assistance, he said, stemmed from the fact the NCAA this season is moving kickoffs back from the 35-yard-line to the 30.

"I'm just working on some mechanical stuff" to drive the ball deeper, said Abdollmohammadi, who this week begins voluntary workouts in Pullman with his Cougar teammates.

"He was putting his kickoffs between the five and the goal line," said Willingham. "With ongoing practice I think he'll be able to put them in the end zone when the season starts."

He termed the move to the 30 a major shift in the game that will likely find a number of schools resorting to pop kicks and squibs.

Willingham, who majored in kinesiology and minored in sports psychology, is considered a master technician so versed in the subject that he can pinpoint problems, over the phone, with a description of a ball's flight path.

He said Abdollmohammadi, an all-league soccer midfielder at Stanwood (Wash.) High, showed the telltale signs of his former sport. "He was kicking with his head out in front of the ball, kicking like a soccer player," Willingham said. "We corrected that and widened his plant -– his plant foot was too tight on the ball."

He also has Abdollmohammadi lining up for field goals slightly closer to the ball.

The result of it all?

"He's kicking the ball straighter and with more power," Willingham said.

TEXAS HEAD MAN Mack Brown calls Willingham the best kicking coach in the country. The Dallas Morning News dubbed him the Foot Doctor in 2003 upon discovering that season that each of the starting kickers and punters at Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, TCU, Baylor, SMU and Houston, plus a handful of Division I-AA schools in Texas, was a Willingham pupil.

Willingham has mentored the likes of two-time Ray Guy Award winner Daniel Sepulveda, former Arizona All-American and Oakland Raider Steve McGlothlan, and more college all-conference picks than you have time to count.

He says kicking is a lot like track and field. "You have one time to be the best you can be, and you have to be explosive and accurate."

ABDOLLMOHAMMADI WAS a perfect 3 for 3 on field goals last season when he stepped into the starter's role in the Cougars' Week 9 victory at UCLA. He kicked a 31-yard trey against the Bruins at the end of the third quarter to notch his first make in a game, at any level, ever.

His expectations for this season -– "to go out and make every kick" -- are nothing less than music to the ears of a Cougar Nation that has watched Abdollmohammadi's chief competitor, former starter Loren Langley, miss 20 field goal tries over the last three seasons.

Being the incumbent starter, rather than the challenger, hasn't changed Abdollmohammadi's outlook. "I try not to think of it as any different from last season," he said. "My approach is pretty much the same."

  • At 15 letters, Abdollmohammadi appears to have a lock on honors for the longest last name in Cougar football history. While a full review of every letter winner over the last 112 years remains to be done, Abdollmohammadi certainly outdistances some of the long-name contenders who come immediately to mind, like early 90s receiver Calvin Schexnayder; early 70s defensive back Fran Kachaturian; early 80s running back Junior Tautalatasi; 1950s end Don Steinbrunner; and 1930s tackle George Theodoratus.

  • However, Abdollmohammadi may not have the most unique-ever name for a Cougar kicker. Late in the 2000 season, Mike Price called upon 5-8, 148-pound Anousith Wilaikul of Vista, Calif.

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