Huskies Can Thank Soccer For Delivering Their Folk Hero
Sept. 22, 2011
Gregg Bell Unleashed: Renewed Huskies Are What They Wear
By Gregg Bell
SEATTLE - The clutch field goals that beat USC in the final seconds in each of the last two seasons. The 78-percent success rate on field goals. The 53-yard field goal in the opener and deeper kickoffs so far this season.
The Huskies can thank soccer for all that.
Specifically, they can thank soccer for turning against Erik Folk - and for turning a Southern California teenager onto football eight years ago as a placekicker, one that is now Washington's dependable senior scorer.
Folk followed the paths of his brothers Nick and Greg, playing "the beautiful game" on teams beginning when he was four years old. Then he wanted to also play football, perhaps as a receiver.
That is, until his first year at Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, Calif., in 2003.
"Actually when I got to high school I wanted to play a position on the (football) field. But I tore my ACL freshman year playing soccer," the quiet Folk said, before he made his fifth field goal in five tries this season last week at Nebraska.
"I decided after that I didn't want to get hurt anymore, so I became just a kicker after that."
Man, are the Huskies glad for that.
Folk is 36 for 46 on field goals in his UW career, and a school-record 80 for 80 on points-after-touchdown kicks -- a cool 116 for 126 on all kicks.
Beyond that dependability, the NFL hopeful and All-Pac-12 candidate has improved his kickoffs this season. He has two touchbacks on 20 tries through three games, as many as he had on 57 kickoffs in 13 games last year.
Then again, booting is in his blood.
His brother Nick, 26, was a kicker and All-Pac-10 punter for Arizona. He is now in his fifth NFL season, his second with the New York Jets.
Erik got a thrill earlier this year when he got to work out extensively at home with Nick during the NFL's lockout - and earlier this month when he watched on television as his big brother beat the Dallas Cowboys with a field goal late in a Sunday night game.
"Yeah, that was fun," Erik said.
Greg, now 24, played soccer at UCLA through 2007. He was the Bruins' co-captain as a defender and played every minute of every game in each of his final two seasons for them.
Chances are if there's a ball around, a Folk is kicking it.
Nick, 22, was heading into high school when his mom Kathy suggested a change to football. The pediatrician thought her son could specialize as a placekicker. Dad Tony, an accountant, was all for it, too.
"My mom convinced my brother to try it out his freshman year, and he had a broken arm at the time from a skateboarding accident," Erik recalls. "The coach said the only position he could really do at the time was kicker. So he did that - and he kept doing it."
Erik, in elementary school at the time, said it was "awesome" watching Nick kick at Friday night high school games. He ultimately decided he wanted to do that, too - but only after he blew out his knee in soccer.
"We all played soccer our whole lives," he said.
He made a 56-yard field goal in that "American" football as a senior at Notre Dame High, then made CalHiSports' all-state third team.
Erik had already been to Arizona's campus in Tucson many times to watch Nick play. And the Wildcats were interested in him. So the U of A would have been a logical choice.
But Erik was struck by a need for brotherly independence.
"My whole life I'd been living in my brother's shadows. I kind of wanted to get away from that and be able to make a name for myself," Erik said. "That really drew me up here," to Washington.
Oregon and California, UW's opponent Saturday at 12:30 p.m. in the Pac-12 opener at Husky Stadium, were also interested. So was Nebraska, which offered him a scholarship. But the Huskies had already offered him one weeks earlier, in October of his senior season in 2006.
"I came up here 2006 for the ASU game and just loved it. It was awesome," Folk said, standing under the west goal posts at Husky Stadium. "When (Nebraska) offered me, I'd pretty much made up my mind to come here."
He sustained a back injury the summer before his freshman season in 2007 and never kicked in a game. Then he redshirted in 2008, when kicker Ryan Perkins led the Huskies with 90 points.
Folk burst into UW lore for what he did in his third game kicking for the Huskies. On September 19, 2009, he made a 22-yard field goal with 3 seconds remaining to upset third-ranked USC 16-13 at Husky Stadium.
The first signature win of coach Steve Sarkisian's program revival was also the turning point in Folk's career.
"I always kind of knew I could do it. Then after that, being put in that situation, especially early, that really helped build my confidence and reassured me," he said. "I mean, it's like everyone says, every kick is exactly the same no matter what the situation is. I kind of stopped worrying about being in games and being in those situations as much.
"It kind of helped it was a short one, too," Folk added, smiling.
Last season, Folk made a career-best 54-yard field goal in the opener at Brigham Young. Then he beat USC again in October, making 4 of 4 tries including a 32-yarder on the final play to upset the Trojans 32-31 in Los Angeles.
When Folk takes the field Saturday against Cal, he will have already gone through a litany of quirks and rituals that makes him, well, a kicker.
"Oh, yeah, I have a ton of rituals. Basically, (they go from) when I wake up on Saturday morning to the start of the game," he said.
"Putting my shoes on the same order, putting pads in my pants in the same order. Small things."
Since this week's is an early afternoon kickoff, Folk will have his standard pregame meal of an omelet, sausage and French toast.
"If it's a late game, it's chicken and broccoli," he said.
Folk has three classes to finish this fall quarter, then he will receive his bachelor's degree in marketing in December.
"If NFL doesn't work out, I will try to stay up here and get a job up here. I definitely want to stay around sports," he said, adding that he may want to eventually work in the front offices for one of Seattle's professional teams - or for the Huskies.
The way Folk comes through on the field, he may not need that fall back plan right away.
QUICK HITS: QB Keith Price continued to wow his teammates and coaches while practicing on two sore knees, going full-go for the fourth consecutive day since he injured his left knee while throwing four touchdown passes at Nebraska. "I actually think he looks almost better," Sarkisian said Thursday of Price on his second bad knee, now that the right one he sprained in the opener Sept. 3 is almost healed. "There's nothing we didn't put in (to the game plan for Cal) because we didn't think he could do it," Sarkisian said. ... The coach is encouraged by the healing of RB Jesse Callier (hamstring/knee) and S Nate Fellner (hamstring) and says both are likely to play Saturday. Sarkisian said reserve safety Taz Stevenson, who injured his knee in practice two days before the Nebraska game, is likely out for Cal.