Cameron Van Winkle has been the best kicker in the Pac-12 the last two years not named Ka’imi Fairbarn - who was the 2015 Lou Groza Award winner - and Utah’s Andy Phillips, an All-American in his own right. Van Winkle was 36-44 during 2014-15, while Fairbarn was 38-46 and Phillips 46-55. Only a percentage point separates the three.
Yet, Van Winkle has barely gotten more than an honorable mention All-Pac-12 nod these past two years, so I guess it shouldn’t necessarily be a surprise that Cameron’s work has largely gone unappreciated.
But as all college football fans know, kickers usually are remembered in infamy. Just ask Florida State fans and their series of ‘wide right’ and ‘wide left’ games versus Miami.
So it’s also telling that Van Winkle is probably known as much for his 46-yard miss to take last year’s Boise State game to overtime than anything else he’s done, despite being a career 82 percent placekicker. And that kick was wide right by about three feet.
But barely anyone recalls the 36-yard kick in the winds surrounding Aloha Stadium a year earlier when it was Van Winkle’s field goal near halftime that ended up providing Washington with enough points to outlast Hawaii in Chris Petersen’s debut as UW’s head coach.
And that’s why he’s on this list. Games are won and lost all the time in the dying moments, and every point counts - whether it’s simply a routine point after touchdown or a 58-yarder as time expires. Placekickers have an ungodly amount of pressure put on them for one or two plays a game, and are rarely remembered for their greatness.
Who knows if the Huskies will need heroics from Van Winkle this season. Rarely has he been called upon in those moments. But when he’s been asked to make field goals, he’s done it as well as anyone at Washington has ever done it.
Think about this for a second: if Van Winkle hits field goals at an 82 percent clip - basically what he’s done the last two years - he will have a better all-time field goal percentage than Chuck Nelson and Jeff Jaeger, two of UW’s finest kickers.
Hard to ask for much more than that.