By Mason Kelley
Cameron Van Winkle was frustrated.
Riding down the elevator in a San Francisco hotel last season, it was clear the kicker was disappointed with the way his freshman season ended.
Washington was preparing to play BYU in the Fight Hunger Bowl, but Van Winkle couldn’t participate. His season had already been shut down. His back betrayed him.
Over time, Van Winkle turned disappointment into determination.
“With adversity, whenever something bad happens, you’ve just got to fight through it,” Van Winkle said. “Something bad happened to me. My back went out. I wasn’t expecting that, especially my freshman year, so I had to fight through it.”
When he enrolled early to join the Huskies in time for spring practice last season, he set a goal to earn his way onto the field in time for the first game at a renovated Husky Stadium. He did just that, handling kickoff duties through the first five games.
“It was really nice to kick in that first game, because that was one of my goals,” he said.
Over time, though, the pain built in his back. He had a bulging disk that required surgery. He still isn’t quite sure what happened.
“To be honest, I don’t really know,” Van Winkle said. “It just started bugging me one day. It went downhill from there.”
At first he thought it was overuse but, whatever the reason, Van Winkle said he is stronger because of the experience.
“I trusted the trainers, and I’m back now,” he said. “I feel better than I did my senior year. My accuracy is a lot better. My strength on both kickoffs field goals is a lot stronger. I’m getting more height on my ball.”
Dealing with the injury taught Van Winkle that preserving his body is as important as talent and technique.
“I used to go out, stretch a little bit and kick,” he said. “Now I take a nice process, do the same thing every practice, every game.”
Now healthy, Van Winkle wants to show what he can do, but he is keeping everything in perspective.
“I’ve just got to go out there and do my best,” he said. “I’m just excited to get out there.”