April 2, 2013
By Gregg Bell - UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - The Huskies' newest potential difference maker this fall doesn't even stand six feet tall. He barely weighs 160 pounds. Yet he loves ... lifting weights?
"He's a kicker that loves the weight room," coach Steve Sarkisian said, "which is relatively unique."
He is Cameron Van Winkle. Tuesday, as Washington resumed spring practice with the first of eight practices before the spring game April 20, Van Winkle joined the competition to become Washington's kicker this fall.
Sarkisian pushed the newest, not-so-big Dawg - one that broke the Washington state record for career field goals month earlier at Mount Si High School in Snoqualmie -- right into it on his second day as a college student.
Van Winkle is the latest of UW's early enrollees out of high school. He missed a couple of field goals early but finished six for eight during Tuesday morning's two-hour practice. Sarkisian nodded his approval from behind as Van Winkle nailed the final two field goals from 43 yards out. Those kicks soared and would have likely been good from 50-plus.
"First day, not bad," special teams coordinator Johnny Nansen said after practice, raising his eyes.
"Obviously he's got a long ways to go, but I'm glad he's here. He's putting it into a little competition, so that's always good."
The job is Van Winkle's to win. That is why the Huskies are thrilled to have him here early competing for it -- instead of preparing for Mount Si's prom.
"Oh, it was great," Sarkisian said of his new kicker's first day. "Cameron is a great kid. He's got a great leg. We threw him right into the fire to see how he looks. It took him a couple and then he found his rhythm.
"I'm really excited about his future here. He's just getting started, but he's a great kid with a lot of talent."
Van Winkle sounds excited, too, though for different reasons. His Twitter account the last few days has portrayed the customary anxiety of a teenager moving out to begin college life.
"Moving into the Uw today #herewego" he tweeted Saturday.
Sunday night he tweeted: "Goodnight #newadventure #uw #college"
Monday, as UW's spring quarter began, he posted: "And it starts".
Washington, with junior-college transfer Travis Coons as its kicker and punter, made seven field goals in 11 attempts during the 2012 regular season. The makes were UW's fewest since 1975, and the attempts were its fewest since '73.
Van Winkle made 39 field goals in high school, including 18 in 2011 as a junior, to set state records. The Associated Press named him its Class 3A all-state kicker in Washington last year.
"He's a confident kid, relatively mild-mannered but confident. He works at it," Sarkisian said.
"He's a guy that, it won't be too big for him. He's made a lot of big kicks in his day. And he'll continue to do it for us."
How does Sarkisian know so much about his new kicker after just one practice?
Van Winkle kicked in Huskies camps in each of the last three summers. That how UW discovered what ultimately became a coveted recruit, one sought by Arizona State, Auburn, Washington State and others late in the recruiting game.
"With kickers so many times you want to see them in person. You don't know on film if they are kicking a ball that is inflated too much, or what the wind conditions are," Sarkisian said. "When you get him in person it makes it a lot more tangible in whether you want him to join your team.
"And then when you get around Cameron he's a great kid with a great family. We are excited to have him."
Especially four months early.
"Oh, anytime you are here developing a relationship with the holder and the snapper then heading into the summer you are comfortable in your surroundings," Nansen said. "The weight room, working with Coach (Ivan) Lewis, the flexibility that goes with it -- all of that comes in handy (in the fall).
"In high school, nothing against high school coaches, but some of those guys are done with their high-school (playing) career and they are on their own (in the spring). Here, they have the structure, and that's always a benefit.
"You look at the kids we've brought in mid-year, and most of them are playing for us. So it's very important."
That list of early enrollees as freshmen has included Chris Polk, Huskies Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Marvin Hall.
Tuesday morning, Nansen was on his way into his office to watch tape of Van Winkle's first kicks, to critique his technique and begin making any necessary adjustments to it.
Not that he is about to make any wholesale changes with his new guy, one that Scout.com ranked as the No. 7 placekicker in the nation last winter.
"A lot the good ones have been trained before they even get to this level. That's why they separate themselves from the rest," Nansen said.
He added with a chuckle: "They come in - and you hope that you don't screw them up."
Van Winkle has worked with Chris Sailer, a renowned kicking instructor. Sailer has mentored recent Lou Groza Award winners as the nation's top college kicker, such as Dan Bailey of Oklahoma State.
Sailer is also credited with developing Nick Folk. The New York Jets kicker is the brother of Erik Folk, who made 42 of 57 field goals in 2009-10 for Sarkisian and the Huskies - including the game-winner to beat then-No. 3 USC at Husky Stadium four years ago this September.
Scout.com has quoted Sailer as saying: "Cameron is simply a great kicker. He is very smooth and extremely consistent off the ground. Has a great leg and gets excellent height on his ball. His kickoffs are D1 ready and he is also a very talented punter. A big time D1 all around prospect."
Last year college football rules moved the kickoff spot up 5 yards, to the 35. That made touchbacks more attainable - in theory, anyway. But Washington had just 11 touchbacks in 63 kickoffs last season.
"His kickoffs are tremendous," Sarkisian said of Van Winkle. "We are hopeful that with the new rule and moving that up that Cameron can kick the ball off into the end zone the majority of the time and minimize the number of kicks that we actually have to run down and cover."
Though Van Winkle's been on campus full time only since Saturday, it's easy to figure out who his new best friend on campus is - or at least should be.
"As a kicker, the biggest thing you want to get used to is the holder," Nansen said. "You have to develop that good relationship and trust."
This year that holder is Thomas Vincent. The former walk-on quarterback has taken over the job opened when Cody Bruns graduated in June.
Vincent also enrolled early at UW, out of King's High School in Seattle for spring practice in 2011.
The Huskies are already liking what they are seeing from their newest early enrollee.
"He's a natural. He worked with a lot of great coaches," Nansen said of Van Winkle. "He's just a natural kicker. Obviously he's got a lot of room for improvement as far as strength.
"But once he gets comfortable with his holder, he's going to be a good one."
INSIDE THE DAWGS: Counting Kohler and Colin Tanigawa, expected back in August after reconstructive knee surgery, the Huskies have four of its five offensive linemen from 2012 returning. Center and co-captain Drew Schaefer graduated; Monday was a step toward replacing him. Kohler was back on the field for the first time since the two-year starter had his 2012 season end prematurely last fall from recurring knee injuries. Kohler got time at guard and at center. Sarkisian said he will get chances at both positions, pending him getting in better shape with more regular work. ... The Dawgs get back on East Field Thursday morning.