Perkins icing the competition

SEATTLE - It was the summer of 2005 and Ryan Perkins was flying high. The future Washington Husky kicker was in Spokane, at Central Valley High School, participating in the annual 3A-4A East-West All-Star game. He had just nailed a 55-yard field goal, the longest he had ever recorded in a game by seven yards.

"I was about to report (to Washington), and not only to represent my school that way, but my region too - it felt pretty good," Perkins told Monday. And in a perfectly written script, the next chapter would have been about Perkins' ascent toward both the UW kicking and punting positions. He would have been the first UW kicker in a very long time to handle all the kicking chores, and was right on the cusp of reaching that ultimate goal

Then spring game happened.

Without warning, and without the protection of a yellow jersey (something that was put in place after the game in question) - Perkins went back to punt like he had a hundred times before.

"I remember the whole thing," Perkins said. "Something triggered in my mind that I was going to have to get the punt off real quick. My leg came up and down and I saw two guys right next to me. I had no time to move. I saw one guy pull the other guy into me, and by that time Caesar (Rayford) snapped my leg and basically made a 90 degree angle to the right."

Some schools don't even punt at all during spring games. Some give the kickers different colored jerseys - like yellow or red - to signify 'hands-off'. Perhaps it was just an oversight, perhaps the coaches wanted to put the punters and kickers in 'live' situations. But it came at a large price.

"I think it was just a freak accident, to be honest," Perkins said. "There's no one you can blame. But there's no warning. In the end, you have to assume that you're live and that people are supposed to come after you. But never in a million years would I have thought a dude would snap it just like that. Especially my own guy. It's crazy to think about it still."

After the injury, after Perkins was diagnosed with major knee damage - possibly serious enough to put his career in jeopardy - nobody ever said it was their fault, nobody ever went up to him with an apology or a word about it. "Should I even blame them?" Perkins said, clearly wondering about it nearly 16 months after the fact. "They are going as hard as they can, trying to win a spot. In the end, I could say the same thing about me going against another kicker or punter. I'm just trying to win a spot too.

But it's doubtful the cost will be anywhere as high.

It took Perkins two months after surgery just to be able to walk again. Now, more than ever - ice has become the thing that allows Perkins to do what he loves to do...kick a football.

"I'll do a backflip into that thing, I'll swan dive into it," he said, laughing about the near-legendary ice baths that adorn the track on the southeast corner of Husky Stadium during fall practice days. "My body really needs it. I'm Icing from the time practice ends to when I go to bed.

"I have arthritis and swelling all the time, and those are factors that the other guys aren't going to have to put up with. My knee could tighten up overnight and I would have to really work it out the next day to be able to kick. That's the only thing I'm really battling.

"I have to win the spot, but I also have to beat my knee too.

Perkins has already been told by specialists that he'll have to have a knee replacement a good 15-20 years before a normal person would. Yet he's not thinking about anything other than the present, not thinking about anything that's not in his control. "The way I've been kicking, I feel fine," Perkins said. "I'm going to go out there and continue being a combo kicker."

But for the sake of longevity and well-being, Perkins has made one big switch - he will be punting full-time with his left leg. Ironically, it's something that might end up helping the Huskies in the short and long-term. "When I see guys catching punts from a right-legged kicker, they catch 'em, but when I punt with my left, they almost always have trouble with the first few," he said, explaining the different way the ball spins and looks to a punt returner. "They can never catch them.

It (kicking with left foot) is something I should've considered as a freshman, but I didn't want to come into that camp not having kicked a lot that way."

Another irony of Perkins' place on the team is the fact that - despite never having played a down collegiately - he's still the elder statesman of very, very young group of kickers. "Our specialist program has bumped up," the 6-foot, 185-pound junior from North Thurston said. "Before it was just me and Zach Gerasin in the winter, and he's not here now - it's a total new group of guys. But so far it's been fairly productive and the competition has been friendly. But we're just delving into it."

'Friendly' is a term Perkins is just starting to get back to using to describe the kicking competition, as circumstances in past years has created more friction than friendship among the kickers. "I think it's going to be more like the competition me and Evan (Knudson) had my first year," he said, not bringing up Michael Braunstein's name at all, but it's easy to read between the lines. "We're all on the same page and we're all basically the same type of person. And there's a lot of talent there.

"It has to be a friendly competition, and it hasn't been that way in the past. And those are the worst. Those are the most non-productive there can be."

But what about the competition? How is it different than say, two linebackers competing for the No. 1 spot? "It's more of a mind game thing, it's more mental," Perkins said of the kicking battles. "And you really aren't going against someone else, you're going against yourself."

If Perkins can master punting with his left foot, he could become a valuable asset in Washington's special teams' arsenal. But all it takes is a little bit of ache in that right leg to drive Perkins toward bigger and better kicking and punting for the Washington Huskies. Like it was supposed to be when he hit that 55-yarder in Spokane - when the sun was down, the grass was high, and his right leg was as strong as ever.

"I think if I tried it (55-yarder) today?" Perkins queried, taking a pause to think.

"I think I'd hit it."

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