Oct. 8, 2007
October 8, 2007
By Christian Caple
Football players, by nature, are competitive. Much ado is made over quarterbacks who hate to lose, wide receivers who guarantee victories and linebackers who take every single positive rushing gain as a personal attack.
Kickers are no different.
"I decided to come here so I could win the kicking jobs," said UW punter Jared Ballman, a community college transfer in his first year as a Husky. "They were all up for grabs and coach told me I could compete for all three jobs, and that's what I wanted to do. I feel like I can come in here and compete for kicking and punting."
But Ballman didn't get into kicking as early as some.
"I started (kicking) my sophomore year in high school just because I played soccer," said Ballman, who also played wide receiver and corner back in high school. "So my coach was like, `You can kick, go try it out.' So I did, and I got bumped to varsity and just started from there."
Ballman won two of the jobs at UW -- along with punting, he also kicks off for the Huskies.
For place-kicking, however, the Dawgs found another fierce competitor -- and former soccer player -- in junior Ryan Perkins.
"I was a soccer player all my life and then basically when high school came around, I wanted to do something in the fall," said Perkins, a product of North Thurston High School in Lacey, Wash. "Kicking came pretty natural to me, so I went out there and kicked the football instead of the soccer ball."
"I liked the coaches here, I liked the team and I knew I could come right in and compete for playing time."
Junior kicker Jared Ballman
"I kind of anticipated what (the recruiting process) would be like," Perkins said. "There were a couple other kickers before me at North Thurston that had gone D-1, but the whole process was definitely interesting."
Those other kickers -- former Husky Evan Knudson and former Eastern Washington kicker Pat LaValla -- preceded Perkins in what the three jokingly refer to as the North Thurston "kicking dynasty."
"We were all basically the same," Perkins said. "All of us played soccer and eventually turned out for the football team. We joke a lot about how we all ended up going places to kick."
North Thurston coach Rocky Patchin echoed a similar theme.
"We've been extremely fortunate to have something like this going," said Patchin, who essentially recruited LaValla, Knudson and Perkins from the North Thurston soccer team. "I convinced Evan to come out, then Pat and then Ryan. We've got a couple guys now that are kicking the football pretty good, too. It's a real kicking fraternity."
Perkins laughed when describing Patchin's `recruiting' tactics.
"Whoever would kick the highest or longest, he would basically beg them to come out and kick the football," Perkins said.
Though Ballman came into kicking in a similar manner, he took a different route to the UW. After graduating from Patrick Henry High in San Diego, Ballman headed to powerhouse Grossmont College -- and tasted success rather early.
"My freshman year of Junior college ball, we won a national championship," Ballman said. "I went there basically to try to get exposure. I got a lot more exposure my sophomore year."
So much exposure, in fact, that Ballman received multiple offers from high level D-1 schools. Louisville, Rutgers, Oregon, Oregon State, Arizona and others all wanted Ballman to kick the football for them. But Washington was the only university he considered, despite the recent success of teams like Louisville and Rutgers.
And while Ballman has contributed greatly in his first year wearing purple and gold, Perkins has had to wait patiently to make his impact.
After sitting out his freshman year, Perkins was expected to challenge much-maligned UW kicker Michael Braunstein for playing time last season. In the spring of 2006, however, Perkins experienced a knee injury, which held him out for another season.
"That was definitely unexpected and not very fun," Perkins said. "I definitely could have gone out there and done something good if the knee had held together, but sometimes you can't control what happens on that football field."
This season, Perkins has made three out of five field goal attempts -- the two misses were both blocked -- and is a perfect 18-18 on PATs.
Ballman is averaging 37.8 yards per punt, and landed five of them inside the 20-yard-line against USC two weeks ago.
Even though a kicker's role is clearly invaluable, some perpetuate the stereotype that kicking isn't as important as some other aspects of the game. Not true, thinks Ballman.
"People say `oh, they're just kickers, they don't really do much, they just kick the ball,'" Ballman said. "In reality, it's really complicated."
Ultimately, Ballman and Perkins want to help sculpt the shape of the future of UW football.
"We're getting there," Ballman said. "Definitely expect a lot more from us."