Senior Travis Coons is playing his final college regular-season game Friday, after two years at UW in which he has kicked off, kicked field goals, punted – plus run for first down, open-field tackles and even taunted opponents. He’s come a long way since the 2012 Apple Cup.
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE – Travis Coons plows for first downs. He makes tackles in the open field. He imitates NFL wide receivers by attempting to taunt foes.
And, oh, yeah, he’s been near-perfect on field goals since last year’s Apple Cup.
He’s no normal kicker, even by the abnormal standards by which those football outliers live and work.
He’s the Huskies quintuple threat: punting, field-goal kicking, kicking off – plus running and tackling.
In the game two weeks ago at UCLA Coons plowed 12 yards behind for a first down on a fake punt. Then he tried to taunt the Bruins by spinning the ball into the Rose Bowl turf as if he was Seattle Seahawk Sidney Rice. That was the same night he banged into speedy UCLA Bruins ball carriers in the open field for two tackles, one of which likely saved a touchdown.
|Three Keys For UW vs. WSU|
|Run, Bishop, Run Some More|
|Washington State enters ninth in the Pac-12 in rushing defense, allowing 180.4 points per game. Last week Oregon State came in seventh in the league in run defense – then Bishop Sankey ran for 179 of UW’s 530 yards, the second-biggest rushing game in school history. No matter who starts at quarterback for the Huskies, he will be handing the ball to Sankey. He needs one rushing touchdown to own UW’s career mark, and 121 yards to break Corey Dillon’s single-season rushing record at Washington from 1996.|
|Sticky Defense – On the Ball|
|The Cougars almost never run; they are dead last in the Football Bowl Subdivision with 60 yards rushing per game. So it will be like it was last year, Connor Halliday throwing all over the lot. Last season the Huskies blew their 18-point lead in the fourth quarter largely because of huge pass-interference calls against them late. Marcus Peters (three turnovers forced last week) and Sean Parker especially in the secondary have been attacking the ball in the air lately. UW must continue to do that, and not give WSU more key first downs via the flag.|
|Coons Kicking the Cup|
|Senior junior-college transfer Travis Coons is the Huskies’ punting, kickoff and field-goal machine. He is 12 for 13 on field goals this season; his only miss was blocked at UCLA two weeks ago. Nine of the last 11 Apple Cups have been decided by a single score, five of those by field-goal margins, and three of those in overtime. That includes last year’s, when Coons’ missed a short-range kick on the final play of regulation that would have won it for UW. Think he hasn’t been waiting for this game?|
“Felt good. It felt good to make some tackles,” Coons said.
He was standing outside the Rose Bowl following the game with a bulbous ice pack on his right arm.
“Yeah, just got hit on the elbow making the tackle,” Coons said, wearing the pack like an honor badge.
He is like his Huskies (7-4, 4-4 Pac-12) entering Friday’s 106th Apple Cup against Washington (6-5, 4-4) at 12:30 p.m. inside sold-out Husky Stadium. The taste left over from the 105th Apple Cup is still as rancid as a year-old glass of cider.
“It still leaves a bad taste in our mouths, I can tell you that,” Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian said of last year’s 31-28 Huskies overtime loss in Pullman. “The players understand it. The coaches understand it.
“We’ve been talking all season about penalties; I believe we had eight penalties in the fourth quarter that game, seven on defense and all major fouls. And then after all of that, blowing the 18-point lead and having an opportunity to kick a field goal, a very makeable field goal for Travis Coons — and then to miss it and to go to overtime and turn the ball over… it was really almost a comedy of errors for the fourth quarter and then into overtime.”
As Sarkisian put it this week, “We can’t do anything about it but prepare really well this week and put our best foot forward at Husky Stadium at 12:30.
“And if it comes down to a kick again I have all the confidence in the world Travis Coons will make it. He’s had a tremendous season for us.”
The Huskies are still trying to determine whether senior Keith Price’s shoulder injury that made him miss last week’s win at Oregon State will force him to watch redshirt freshman Cyler Miles again on Friday. Price has been throwing more each day this week, and it would be a surprise if he doesn’t find a way to start his final game at Husky Stadium.
But no matter who starts at quarterback Friday it could be another senior – the kicking-punting-almost-everything-else one – who is Washington’s key. The margin of victory in nine of the last 11 Apple Cups have been within one score. Five of those have been decided by a field-goal margin, with three of those in overtime.
Coons enters his final regular-season game as a Husky as perhaps the only kicker in the nation to also be his team’s punter, its kickoff man -- plus its open-field tackler and second-leading rusher for a game.
Name another kicker that entered this week’s games 12 of 13 in field goals this season – the only miss was blocked at UCLA – and leading his team in yards per carry. Name another kicker that has gotten chewed out for taunting, after running at a potential NFL first-round draft pick.
Coons’ latter caper came after his fake-punt run at Bruins star linebacker Anthony Barr for a first down in UW’s own end during the second half at UCLA on Nov. 15. After the surprise play he comically whiffed on that attempt to spin the ball into the Bruins’ faces.
“Yeah, I tried to add a little something to it,” Coons said with a sheepish laugh.
It was his second such play this season. The other one, against Stanford, went for 19 yards. Hence, his gaudy average of 15.5 yards per carry.
The 6-foot-2, 199-pound native of Alta Loma, Calif., has been a revelation for two seasons since arriving in the summer of 2012 from Mt. San Antonio College.
He handled all field-goal, kickoff and most punting duties last season. This season the plan was for freshman Cameron Van Winkle to do the kickoffs and maybe the placekicking while Coons battled Korey Durkee to punt.
But Coons was so good in preseason practice that he won both the field-goal and punting jobs again. Then after five games Van Winkle went out with a back injury. Coons has been doing triple duty again since. He was the Pac-12’s special teams player of the week last month for making field goals from a career-long 46 and 42 yards and for putting three punts inside the 10-yard line against California.
He made his first 10 field goals of the season until he had one blocked at UCLA.
So, yes, his two-year Huskies career has exceeded the expectations of the junior-college transfer -- and just about everyone else.
“I’m happy with the way it’s gone,” he said. “They said I had a shot to do all three; the main thing they said was kickoff and field goal.
“I did all three in high school, but that’s about it.”
Actually, not quite.
He was also a safety and a wide receiver at Alta Loma High School, about 45 miles east of Los Angeles. He won the southern California section championship and went to the state title game while there. He also played soccer in high school, and that was why he approached his coach one day as a freshman and asked to try kicking.
“I play soccer. Can’t be that hard,” he remembers thinking. “And I went out and wasn’t that bad, I guess.”
He was on varsity as a sophomore. Upon graduation he went to Mt. San Antonio, a community college in nearby Walnut, to play safety.
“I ended up tearing three ligaments in my ankle, so I couldn’t really run as well as I wanted to,” he said. “So I told my coach I just wanted to concentrate on my kicking.”
That when Huskies’ special-teams coach found him. Knowing the Huskies were about to lose prolific kicker Erik Folk to graduation, Nansen made many hour-plus drives from his offseason base and hometown of Long Beach to the Inland Empire expressly to see Coons.
“It was either San Diego State or U-Dub,” Coons said. “I was getting recruited by Coach Nansen. And it just worked out perfectly,” he said.
“I always wanted to play in the Pac-12.”
He signed with Washington before ever visiting the campus because of his trust in Nansen.
“Any time he came out he was a really cool guy,” Coons said.
Coons was nine for 14 on field goals in his UW debut season of 2012. He kicked the game-winning one from 30 yards out with 1:20 left to beat seventh-ranked Oregon State.
The miss that haunted him most was the 35-yarder on the final play of regulation in last year’s Apple Cup. Washington State then won in overtime.
That, of course is a kicker’s life. Kick long enough, and you are going to miss one when you’d truly rather not.
“Yeah, exactly,” Coons said. “Make some and miss some.
“That’s just one game. Yeah, it sucked missing that. But it’s just one game, and it’s over with. I had a new season to concentrate on. That’s what I’ve been doing.”
His coach has noticed – and been impressed.
“I’m proud of him,” Sarkisian said. “The way his junior year ended, to come back and have the senior year that he’s having, I’m really happy for him.”
Coons is on track to graduate in August with a degree in ethic studies after a final quarter this summer. He has a sister, Karlie, who is studying at the University of LaVerne College near where they grew up. His younger brother Scott was a high school linebacker. He just moved with their parents Tom and Rindy to Prescott, Ariz. He is helping his father’s construction business there.
Travis’ mom and dad, sister and brother are expected inside Husky Stadium Friday to watch his final college regular-season game.
Perhaps Coons can cap his finale by finally nailing that celebratory ball spin. After all, today’s game is on turf, not grass.
“Yeah,” Coons said, laughing again of his prank at UCLA, “one of my coaches came up on the sidelines and yelled, ‘You can’t do that! You are going to get a flag!’”