ONE OF WASHINGTON STATE'S most glaring special teams deficits in recent years has been kickoffs. Coverage problems begat squib kicks which ultimately led to surrendering huge swaths of field position to the opponent. But enrolling today in classes at WSU is a junior college walk-on kicker with a big leg who might make all of that a distant memory.
His name, special teams coach Steve Broussard said Friday, is Nico Grasu
, a 6.1, 205-pound transfer from Moorpark Community College in California. He prepped at Crespi Carmelite High in Encino.
"One of the biggest legs in the nation. Perhaps the No. 1 kickoff guy in the country," says Chris Sailer, who runs a school for kickers and punters.
He averaged 58.6 yards on 60 kickoffs for Moorpark in 2007. His hang time, says Sailer, regularly checked in at the 4.2-plus second range.
Sophomore-to-be Wade Penner
handled much of WSU's kickoff work last season and likely won't surrender the role without a fight. On 43 kicks, he averaged 54.6 yards. In addition, there's another walk-on JC transfer, Patrick Rooney
, who acquitted himself well in the Cougars' spring workouts.
In regard to field goals and PATs, it looks like another hot battle between those three.
Grasu connected on 9-of-11 field goals this past season. But despite the high percentage on field goals, consistency was an issue on PATs, where he was 35-44.
Broussard, who obviously hasn't seen Grasu kick yet, said Friday at the King County Cougar Golf Classic that if the season started tomorrow, Penner would be No. 1.
Penner, from Corvallis, tried no field goals last season and was 2-for-2 on PATs.
With long-time WSU holder Gary Rogers taking over as the No. 1 QB, punter Reid Forrest will take over as the holder for PATs and field goals. Rogers is the backup holder for the time being, but head coach Paul Wulff said he hopes to find someone else for that spot when fall camp opens in early August.
Broussard said WSU last season finished in the bottom three in the Pac-10 in the major special teams categories. The goal for this season, he said, is straightforward: "To be better and more consistent." Keeping things fairly simple will help. So will the mindset that playing special teams is a responsibility, even an honor, that can change the face of games.