Wide Left, Wide Right, and Straight Through the Uprights: The Pac-12’s Top 15 Kickers in 2013
The Good, The Bad, and the Undecided: The Pac-12's Top 15 Kickers of the 2013 Preseason
Kickers don’t get much attention until the game is on the line. Make a game-winning field goal and you’re a hero. Miss it and your Facebook page will be plastered with hate mail before you get back to the locker room.
It’s a tough job – alone on the field, all eyes on your foot, responsible for the win or the loss – but there are plenty of players in the Pac-12 willing to take on the role. The concern for some coaches and fans is whether their kicker is able to handle it.
A kicker with range, accuracy, consistency and poise can be a safety net for a struggling offense or a critical but underappreciated element of a top-notch team. One who lacks those traits risks becoming the scapegoat for the rest of the team’s shortcomings.
Arizona, Arizona State and Utah all tried to find their next franchise kicker this offseason. ASU had two returning, but neither was a solid option, and Utah had an open competition after losing inconsistent two-year starter Coleman Peterson to graduation.
The Washington Huskies were also on the hunt for a new kicker – or punter, or kickoff specialist – after senior Travis Coons had to handle all three roles in 2012.
Many Pac-12 teams are lucky to have reliable kickers returning. Cal, Stanford and Washington State have one more season with their senior kickers, while Colorado and UCLA hope their returners don’t hit a sophomore slump.
While they have had decent careers, WSU’s Andrew Furney and USC’s Andre Heidari were each less accurate in 2012 than in previous seasons, and they’ll be under scrutiny this year to see if they can rejoin the ranks of elite Pac-12 kickers.
Read on for the Rant Sports’ Preseason List of the Top 15 Kickers in the Pac-12.
Trevor Romaine, Oregon State
Oregon State junior Trevor Romaine was the most accurate kicker in the Pac-12 last season, hitting 16 of 18 field goal attempts (88.9%). His kicking improved from his freshman to sophomore years, and he enters the 2013 season riding a streak of twelve straight field goals made. A 2012 All Pac-12 Honorable Mention, Romaine is one of only two Pac-12 kickers on the Lou Groza Award Preseason Watch List.
Romaine also kicks off for the Beavers and had 36 touchbacks in 2012, but he's not afraid to go after returners; he was fourth on the team with six special teams tackles last season.
Vincenzo D'Amato, Cal
After sharing time at kicker as a freshman, Cal's Vincenzo D'Amato was relegated to backup duty. He took a redshirt season and played so well in his return that he enters his senior season as the team's active scoring leader (130 points). In 2012, he made just 16 of 23 field goals, but his average of 1.33 field goals made per game led the conference and helped him land on the first team All Pac-12 list.
With new pieces in the Bears' offense this season, Cal hopes it won't need to rely as heavily on D'Amato to get on the scoreboard, but he's proved he's up for the task.
Andrew Furney, Washington State
In 2012, The News Tribune in Tacoma, Wa., wrote a profile on WSU kicker Andrew Furney with the headline: "Big Belly, Big Leg, Small Ego." Unlike some spindly-legged kickers, it's obvious that Furney has some power to put behind his kicks, and he knows how to use it: he kicked the second-longest in Pac-12 history, a 60-yarder, in 2012 against Eastern Washington.
He made 70 percent of his kicks (14 of 20) last season, including the game-winner in the Cougars' shocking Apple Cup win over Washington, but his coaches aren't satisfied. Furney set high standards for himself during his first year, making 14 field goals on 16 attempts, or a whopping 87.5 percent. In fall camp, WSU special teams' coordinator Eric Russell put his veteran kicker on notice, announcing to reporters that Furney must be automatic on kicks of 45 yards or less.
Jordan Williamson, Stanford
In 2011, Jordan Williamson missed the potential game-winner in the Fiesta Bowl in overtime. Such high-profile fails have ended the careers of some kickers, but Cardinal coach David Shaw never lost confidence in his guy, helping Williamson regain his own confidence. Less than a year later, Williamson redeemed himself by hitting the game-winner as Stanford upset then No. 1 Oregon to move to the top of the Pac-12 and end the Ducks' national title hopes.
Williamson still isn't a lock whenever he takes the field; he made just 17 of 27 field goal attempts in 2012, but he only missed one extra point and he led the team in scoring with 96 points. A second-team All Pac-12 player and Lou Groza Award semifinalist in 2011, he received honorable mention last season, but with several key offensive playmakers gone, Williamson could have more opportunities to score for the Cardinal this year.
Ka'imi Fairbairn, UCLA
Hawaii native Ka'imi Fairbairn was the fourth-best kicker in his recruiting class but his college career got off to a rough start in 2012, when three of his five extra point attempts were blocked in his very first game. Since then, he's been a perfect 15-for-15. His field goal kicking isn't too shabby, either. He made 16 of his 22 attempts as a true freshman (72.7%), including a last-second game winner against Arizona State. If he continues to play as well as he did during his first season, Fairbairn could have a long career as the latest in a line of excellent UCLA kickers.
Andre Heidari, USC
Like WSU's Furney, Andre Heidari's stellar freshman year set high expectations for his USC career. An early enrollee in 2011, Heidari was third in the nation in field goal percentage (88.2%) after hitting 15 of 17 field goals, including 4 of 5 attempts beyond 40 yards, and he finished the year a perfect 50-for-50 on PATs.
A first-team All Pac-12 pick as a freshman, he couldn't have been much better. So in his sophomore year, he got worse. Heidari suffered a torn meniscus in the Trojans' opener against Hawaii and missed the team's next two games. He still had a decent season after his return -- he was 10-of-16 on field goals and 39-for-41 on extra points, enough for All Pac-12 Honorable Mention -- but USC fans questioned whether he was fully healthy, and whether he'd ever fully return to pre-injury form. If he comes out strong in 2013, they'll have their answer.
Travis Coons, Washington
Washington's Travis Coons did it all in 2012: kicking, punting and kickoffs. The triple threat hit all 39 PATs and was 9-of-14 on field goal tries, but he also logged 63 kickoffs and 54 punts. The Huskies wanted to bring in an extra foot or two to reduce the senior's workload, and Coons was in competition for both the kicker and punting spots.
Head coach Steve Sarkisian announced that Coons will be the field goal kicker and will share punting responsibilities with Korey Durkee in 2013. Freshman Cameron Van Winkle will handle kickoffs, but it wouldn't be surprising to see the rookie (and future starter) occasionally come in for longer distance kicks.
Zane Gonzalez, Arizona State
Last season, the Arizona State Sun Devils struggled on field goals and extra points. As one beat reporter pointed out, the team hasn't made even 60 percent of its field goals of more than 30 yards since 2007. ASU freshman kicker Zane Gonzalez was in middle school the last time the team had a truly reliable kicker, but he might be their next one. As a high school senior in Texas, Gonzalez was perfect: he made all ten of his field goal attempts and hit all his extra points. He's been similarly consistent in this fall's practices and scrimmages, even from distances longer than 40 yards.
Alejandro Maldonado, Oregon
Oregon senior kicker Alejandro Maldonado might be better known for some of his big misses than his clutch kicks. Fortunately for him, the Ducks' offense doesn't really rely on its kicker to score points, with 28 field goal attempts in the last two seasons. Maldonado is 10-of-18 in his UO career, and he had 100 points in 2012, but most of them came on extra points (77).
Maldonado especially struggles with longer kicks; he's made just two of eight attempts from greater than 40 yards. He's the team's only experienced kicker, though, and since he doesn't have any trouble tacking an extra point onto the Ducks' touchdowns, he generally gets the job done.
Will Oliver, Colorado
There wasn't much to get excited about in Colorado's historically bad 2012 football season, but true freshman kicker Will Oliver was one of the better aspects of last year's team. He made 29 of 31 PATs, including his first 22 straight, and he set the record for most points scored by a Colorado freshman with 62, outpacing Mason Crosby's 52 from 2003. He also set freshman school records in field goals made (10) and field goals attempted (16), and 6-for-10 on kicks inside 40 yards.
His numbers weren't earth-shattering, but they weren't embarrassing either, which is more than could be said for much of the team's season. With a new era beginning at Colorado, Oliver is one young player the team can count on as it begins to rebuild.
Alex Garoutte, Arizona State
Junior Alex Garoutte started 2012 as the Sun Devils' kicker, but the coaching staff eventually couldn't take any more of his hit-or-miss kicks (54.5%) and replaced him with walk-on Jon Mora. Garoutte continued to kick PATs because he was incredibly reliable at it; he made 100 straight extra point attempts before a miss in the Sun Devils' bowl win over Navy.
ASU freshman Zane Gonzalez has overtaken Garoutte as this year's field goal kicker, but Garoutte is expected to continue handling kickoffs after a strong fall camp.
Cameron Van Winkle, Washington
Van Winkle didn't overtake Coons (pictured above) for the UW kicking job, but he might be one of the most talented up-and-coming placekickers in the Pac-12. He set Washington state high school records for field goals made in a season (18) and career (39) -- surpassing records set several years earlier by current WSU senior Andrew Furney. Van Winkle has a big leg and will take over for Coons as kickoff specialist, but since the seasoned veteran has one more year and plenty left in his leg, there's no need to rush the rookie into action.
Matt Wogan, Oregon
The Ducks have an adequate, experienced senior kicker, but they also signed an immensely talented freshman. A USA Today and Parade first-team All-American in high school, Matt Wogan was the nation's No. 2 kicker/punter last year, and he might be too good to keep on the bench. Wogan could begin his UO career as a kickoff specialist, but he's been impressive during fall, hitting field goals of more than 50 yards. No one who knew Wogan in high school was surprised; he had five field goals of more than 51 yards, including a 58-yarder that set a county record. The bigger surprise might be that he signed with Oregon, a team that hasn't needed many field goals from its kickers in recent seasons.
Andy Phillips, Utah
Utah hasn't had the best luck with kickers, and it seems like the team is on track to take a big risk with this year's new starter. Walk-on Andy Phillips is a 24-year-old redshirt freshman who is taking the lead in the kicking competition in Provo.
Like many new kickers, Phillips' background is in soccer, not football, and he took the scenic route to his college football career. A skier, he went to a special high school for elite athletes, served a two-year Mormon mission in Norway, and spent five years as an alpine racer on the U.S. ski team.
For Phillips, the mechanics and technique of placekicking might be more difficult to learn than the mental aspect. He says his years in elite skiing acclimated him to the pressure of competing in the spotlight, and his emotional maturity and mental toughness, as well as his competitive drive, may have helped him win the job.
Jake Smith, Arizona
Jake Smith hasn't played since 2011, but he's been in the news recently after becoming one of the first active college football players to join the Ed O'Bannon lawsuit against the NCAA. His groundbreaking off-the-field move hasn't hurt his chances at becoming Arizona's starting kicker this season, but for a fifth-year senior, he's less experienced than one might expect.
Smith initially signed with Syracuse and then transferred to Youngstown State before landing in Tucson. The former walk-on was expected to compete for the starting role last year, but he suffered a torn ACL before the season. Smith has had a full year to recover and he spent the offseason working out with NFL kicker Billy Cundiff.
He competed throughout camp with walk-on Casey Skowron, a former soccer player who will likely be the backup, but the job is Smith's if his leg holds up and his kicks split the uprights.