April 24, 2010
This is an area of the game the Huskies have been developing throughout spring football practice. Erik Folk is the only mainstay in a unit that was nearly automatic last year, which led to one of the best seasons from a Husky placekicker the program has ever experienced. Gone are Folk's holder (Ronnie Fouch) and his long snapper (Danny Morovick), meaning the Huskies are juggling two new additions to the fold: Brendan Lopez and Cody Bruns, who is pulling double-duty as both a holder and a receiver.
A complete recalibration of the kicking game won't come overnight. Folk has missed some makeable kicks this spring, a sight Coach Steve Sarkisian has mostly shrugged off during post-practice interviews. He understands Folk is working with a new unit. Additionally, he's not overly concerned about kicks that don't count.
To get up to speed, a quartet of Folk, Bruns, Lopez and punter Will Mahan are a constant sight before and after practice. They've banded together each morning at 7 a.m. for workouts. When practice ends, the group will hang out together off the field as well.
"We're together almost every day," Lopez said. "Just building that friendship connection has really helped with the chemistry."
Outside of watching film, the only way Lopez said he can improve his long-snapping skills is with practice reps. So he'll gather Bruns and intentionally snap him balls that are too low or too high, helping to prepare the holder for the live snaps that do happen to go awry. Bruns said he's felt more comfortable as spring practice has worn on, knowing his sure hands (part of what made him a record-setting receiver out of Prosser High School) can handle any snap. The extra practice has helped, according to Bruns, who noted Folk is regaining the form that made him one of the most successful placekickers in Husky history in 2009. Case in point: during Saturday's scrimmage at a wind-swept Husky Stadium, Folk drilled a 45-yard field goal.
"We've made a big gain from where we were at the beginning of spring to now," Bruns said.
Bruns enjoys holding because it keeps him on the field. When he was approached this offseason by the coaches about the opportunity, he jumped. Holding offered him a sure job on the field, unlike receiving, where there is brutal competition to showcase yourself in front of the decision makers. The Huskies returned a deep class of receivers, and Bruns wasn't helped when he suffered a concussion during the early part of spring ball. The knock wasn't serious, but it was enough for others to step into his place.
"There's a lot of depth at the receiver position. A lot," Bruns said. "We're all close, and it's better for us as a unit (to be deep). It's going to help me individually as well."
Lopez has no such competition to keep him up nights. The junior from nearby Bellevue began his college football career at the University of Michigan, a decision he called "rash." That's not to say he didn't enjoy his time in Ann Arbor, but he regretted leaving the Evergreen State to head east almost immediately. Last year, Lopez backed up Morovick. Now he's in sole possession of the job.
The hardest part of the gig, Lopez said, is putting yourself in the proper mind frame to succeed in such a short window. A long snapper can theoretically sit on the bench for 59 minutes and 55 seconds, and then be called upon to snap the would-be game-winning field goal.
"I'm a real calm, collected guy," Lopez said. "I don't get rattled. But stuff like this, you don't five to six opportunities to do it right. Sometimes, you only get one shot."