Years ago, in a highly publicized fit of pique at his Texas Tech football players, Mike Leach went off on their priorities, prominently mentioning their “fat little girlfriends.”
Well, Andrew Furney, the kicker at Washington State, might never have heard of that tirade. But he admits that Leach’s descriptive use of physical stature once could have applied to him.
“I hate to say it,” Furney confessed recently, “but I weighed between 233 and 235 when he got here.”
He began paring weight, about 25 pounds, less motivated by urging from the new regime than by his own direction. The explanation is classic, engaging Furney:
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“For me, it was more like, ‘I don’t want to be remembered for being the big, fat kicker that kicked at Washington State.’ ”
With just about every kick, the 5-foot-10 Furney is leaving a different calling card. There was the 60-yard bomb he unleashed against Eastern Washington last year. Then the pressure 45-yard kick with two minutes left that pulled the Cougars all the way back from an 18-point, fourth-quarter deficit in the Apple Cup. Then the overtime game-winner against the Huskies that rendered Pullman one big Thanksgiving-weekend bacchanal.
And last Saturday, the 41-yard kick with 3:03 left in the Los Angeles Coliseum that brought down USC in a headbanging 10-7 victory.
“Couldn’t have planned it any better,” Furney said afterward.
Except for WSU’s woes as a team his first three seasons, the same could be said about the arc of Furney’s life after his mom suggested he give kicking a try back in his middle teens at Burlington-Edison High School.
Furney’s career percentage of .714 beyond 40 yards (15 of 21) swamps every noted kicker at WSU over the last generation. That includes the standard-bearer for distance kicking, Jason Hanson (1988-91), who had a .591 mark on far more kicks (39 of 66).
Rian Lindell, who, like Hanson, had a long NFL career, went 10 of 23 (.435) over 40, and Drew Dunning (2000-03) was at .586 beyond 40 at 17 of 29. Dunning is the WSU overall career leader at .773, but Furney is a threat at .767.
His proficiency began to lead Furney to doing what he needs to prepare for a shot at the NFL — losing weight, hydrating, eating right, putting in extra work — “doing all the little extra stuff that’s tedious but makes a difference.”
That included packing in extra classes over the summer to achieve a double-major in marketing and finance, and emailing the recently retired Hanson for tips on how to stay fresh late in the season, when he tends to miss more kicks.
Clearly, he’s a guy that takes care of business, probably one reason he’s developed a fan of sorts in Leach, who says Furney has attained territory mostly unknown to kickers — a bit of leadership status.
“He’s been a pretty steady guy around here,” Leach said. “I do think he holds some things together that we may not be aware of. Every team kind of has a guy who, if somebody’s having a bad day, he puts it in perspective.”
That said, Leach applied this needle: “You know how weird kickers are. Andrew’s not entirely an exception, but he’s not as weird as some of them.”
Here’s Furney’s stone-cold take on leading: “I like to lead by example. I can’t go out there and be super-vocal. I’m a kicker.”
All this started back when he was a kid in Burlington, hung up on soccer and not really seeing much future in football. His mom mentioned kicking, which he scoffed at.
“Give it a shot,” said a cousin living with him at the time. “You never know what’ll happen.”
What happened is he set a state prep record with 33 career field goals, and then he did a circuit of college camps, hoping to earn a scholarship.
“There were top-five kickers at some of them,” Furney said. “I ended up beating some. That was a really big confidence-builder, and it helped me handle pressure. You’re kicking right there in front of Ohio State’s coach.”
Still, no scholarship offer. Washington State pursued him hard, telling him he could earn aid if he won the job as a freshman. He did. Now three years later, the USC victory has the feel of a game-changer for the Cougars.
“First and foremost, I want to go to a bowl game, that’s No. 1,” Furney says, pondering what would be a satisfying season. “For me, it would be a good year just to make some big kicks for the team.”
Like most of his kicks, he’s on course.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org