The Huskies could have suffered last year when it became clear that true freshman Van Soderberg was struggling to adapt to the one-step style the Washington coaches required in order to effectively punt in the Pac-12.
But Tristan Vizcaino stepped in and performed admirably, averaging 40.7 yards per kick, with a long of 65. Fifteen of his 51 punts ended up inside the 20, with only five touchbacks.
So it might make sense to just leave Vizcaino, who had to learn new styles of punting, including rugby style, at punter for his senior year but with Cameron Van Winkle’s graduation there was an immediate need for an experienced placekicker. Vizcaino will be that kicker.
The shuffle would work because with an extra year to perfect his new one-step motion, Soderberg would slot in nicely as Vizcaino’s replacement.
Enter Joel Whitford.
Whitford was Mitch Wishnowsky’s replacement at Santa Barbara City College. All Wishnowsky has done since moving on to Utah was win the Groza Award, so hopefully Whitford can have a similar impact at UW.
Whitford had only a 37.6 yards per kick average, but part of that is mitigated by the fact that nearly half of his kicks (23/47) were downed inside the 20, with only three touchbacks. So clearly he knows how to pin the opponent in when given a chance.
As a mid-year graduate from Santa Barbara, signing Whitford gives Washington Special Teams Coordinator Bob Gregory a security blanket for spring football in case Soderberg hasn’t been able to make progress.
It also gives Gregory a multitude of options. At 6-4 and 215 pounds, Whitford has Aussie Rules Football experience that gives him a great sense of how and when to get rid of a kick when punting rugby style. He can pose a threat on fakes with his size, and he can also offer up other rugby style options, like cross-field kicks.
Given how Australians have assimilated into Pac-12 life (Wishnowsky, Tom Hackett, etc…), there no reason to believe Whitford won’t offer up at least some legitimate competition for Soderberg and probably makes the job his own after spring football. We’ve seen how Utah has benefitted from using Aussie kickers and now Washington has gone Down Under to give their special teams a special edge.
Could the tradition of finding legendary walk-on placekickers be back on under Chris Petersen? Chuck Nelson and Jeff Jaeger are just two of a handful of brilliant walk-on kickers that have contributed mightily to UW’s history of specialists.
Here’s Peyton Henry's kicking statistics (via Maxpreps):
145-170 touchbacks - 85 percent
84-93 as a senior - 90 percent
152-156 PATs - 97 percent
69-69 as a senior - 100 percent
18-26 Field Goals - 69 percent
8-11 as a senior - 73 percent
Henry’s numbers compare quite favorably to Van Winkle’s career at Mount Si. Here’s his numbers via Maxpreps.
74 percent touchbacks in career, 80 percent as a senior.
93 percent PATs, 97 percent as a senior.
71 percent Field Goals as a senior, but 43 percent as a senior.
Part of the reason Van Winkle was offered a scholarship was because he went 18-20 as a junior, incredible numbers. His long field goal was 49 yards in high school. Henry’s was 52.
It was interesting that Henry, a teammate of Washington quarterback commit Jake Haener, was pursued and evidently preferred over Archbishop Murphy’s Ryan Henderson, who had multiple kicks of 50 yards under his belt as a senior while going 12-14 in field goals.
It gets even curiouser when Henderson’s ATM coach is none other than former UW linebacker Jerry Jensen, who turned the Husky coaches on to Henderson. Henderson is now set to walk on at Washington State, so UW fans need to hope that one doesn’t come back to bite the Dawgs.
A grade can’t be assessed until Henry starts practicing with the team. Until then, he’s still recruitable.