Aug. 18, 2006
Kickers live a lonely life.
Washington's fall practices, each of which last roughly two hours, are broken up into several 10-15 minute periods, of which typically just one is dedicated to placekicking.
That's 10 minutes of actual live kicking a day, or about an hour a week. Split it up three ways -- with kickers Michael Braunstein, Michael Book and Sean Douglas each receiving a third of the repetitions -- and it amounts to about 20 minutes of actual live practice time per kicker, per week.
20 minutes to impress the coaches.
20 minutes to earn your teammates' trust.
Book says that it's not the few minutes of actual kicking that are the most difficult part -- it's the long waits in between.
"When you're sitting around for so much of the time, you really have to focused so that you're ready for those few minutes when you're going to be needed to make a kick," he says.
Because kickers generally only have 2-3 opportunities to make a play during a game, and because each one of those plays has a direct impact on the scoreboard, Braunstein says that the kicker's success and failure are measured on a nearly impossible scale.
"People think that kicking is such a simple job -- you just go out there and kick it ... easy, right?" he says. "You're expected to make every single kick. But really it's no different than any other position -- cornerbacks don't make an interception on every play, receivers don't catch every ball they're thrown, and kickers don't make every kick."
Washington's coaches are hoping that Braunstein and his fellow kickers will be deadly accurate this fall. By virtue of a solid spring, and an injury to redshirt freshman Ryan Perkins, with whom he was competing, Braunstein enters the 2006 season as the likely candidate to replace departed senior placekicker Evan Knudson, who attempted all but seven of UW's 32 field goals the last two seasons.
Braunstein, who is 3-for-7 in his UW career and says he has booted a 60-yarder in practice this summer, will get first crack at the job, with Book and punter Sean Douglas providing depth at the position.
Braunstein says that after battling for the starting job for nearly two-and-a-half years, being confident in his starting role this fall has allowed him to relax on the field -- and in turn, has made him a better kicker.
"It's a lot easier -- I can go out there with confidence and not have to worry about every single kick," he says. "Before, I'd always think, `If I miss even one kick, my job could be gone.' That puts a lot of pressure on every kick, and it's hard."
Book, a senior who gave up a developing collegiate soccer career to walk on as a kicker at UW in 2004, agrees that to put too much significance into every single kick is to walk a dangerous line.
"You can't look at it like that -- you'll just psych yourself out," he says. "Personally, I think the pressure of having to make that big kick with everyone counting on you is the most exciting thing about kicking."
If either gets the chance to make such a kick this fall -- and it's almost certain they will -- they'll be ready. After all, they have plenty of time to prepare.