Race Porter may be the best player on the team.
Which, considering the context, should be inconceivable.
Porter — a 6-foot-3, 190-pound senior from Seattle — didn’t start punting until his senior year of high school, after all. And even that was attributed to a happy accident, after Porter — primarily a golfer, a basketball player and track and field standout — joined O’Dea’s football team as an aspiring wide receiver.
“That was the first plan,” Porter said on Wednesday. “And then they didn’t have a punter leading into the first game, so they asked if I wanted to try it out, and it wasn’t too hard for me. That was the history of that.”
Speaking of which: Porter understands Husky history better than most. His grandfather, Tom Porter, earned an MBA from the Foster School of Business, taught at UW and published a number of books about the football program — including “Go Huskies! Celebrating the Washington Football Tradition,” “A Football Band of Brothers: Forging the University of Washington’s First National Championship,” and “Husky Stadium: Great Games and Golden Moments.”
As a child, Race spent fall Saturdays retracing his steps — parking at the Urban Horticulture Center with his dad and grandpa, before walking a mile south to Husky Stadium, while Tom regaled him with stories about the purple and gold.
Even so, Porter never dreamed of attending UW. He says he “wanted to go somewhere warm in California, or somewhere where the sun was hitting you every day.”
Instead, his senior season caught the eye of the Husky coaching staff.
And not just his senior football season.
“(UW director of player development) Brandon Huppert told me that they didn’t take me seriously until they saw my basketball highlight,” Porter said. “So I think they just took me as kind of an athlete, (thinking they’d) figure out a position for him and work that out. But it was all kind of a blur. It just happened so fast my senior year.”
So, to recap: Porter was never supposed to punt, nor was he supposed to attend UW.
He started as a walk-on holder, and worked his way up.
“Just being able to go out there and hold was special to me. I never thought I’d play or anything like that,” he said. “So trying to keep that mindset of just being grateful to be able to be out there playing with my teammates, getting better every day, getting stronger, all that stuff, that’s kind of just been the backbone of my mindset.”
In the years since, Porter’s mindset has made all the difference.
As a first-time starter last fall, he averaged 42.4 yards per punt — with three fair catches, three punts inside the 20, and one that traveled 50-plus yards.
Porter’s average has improved to 47.6 yards this season (with a long of 67), good for eighth in the nation. In six games, he has recorded 10 punts of 50-plus yards and knocked eight of them inside the 20.
In short: a former walk-on who played one year of high-school football has developed into one of the country’s premier punters.
And that development has little to do with his leg.
“I spent the last year really, really diving into the mental side of the game,” he said. “There’s mechanics, technique. You can go so far with that. But at a certain point you have to take another jump, and I’d say it’s that mindset — just reading a bunch of different books on it, all that stuff.
“Leading up to the season, I didn’t have any goals specific to how many yards I wanted to punt the ball every time. I try to stay away from the numbers. My goal is to be the best player on the team. It sounds funny, having a punter say that. But the mindset I have is if everyone can step on the field every day trying to be the best player on the football team, and you’ve got a bunch of guys with that mindset, you can do some special things.”
Through six games, Porter is doing special things — and he credits books like “The Inner Game of Tennis” by Timothy Gallwey, “Here & Now: Living in the Spirit” by Henri Nouwen, “Inner Excellence: Train Your Mind for Extraordinary Performance and the Best Possible life” by Jim Murphy, and “Winning: The Unforgiving Race to Greatness” by Tim Grover.
He credits a training session with Seahawks punter Michael Dickson last offseason as well.
“Going into that session, in my head, he was completely different. I would never consider myself even close to that,” Porter said. “Afterwards I was a little bit more motivated, because I was like, ‘OK, my best ball is the same as his best ball. But his best ball is every time he kicks it. So now we just need to get more consistent.’ More than anything, that session just motivated me.”
It motivated Porter to be — or strive to be — the best player on the team.
Best punter. Best player. Perhaps, best leader.
“He’s on our leadership council. He’s one of the leaders of the locker room,” said UW head coach Jimmy Lake. “He has shown what great work ethic can get you. He’s risen up, earned a scholarship, is a starter and now one of the best punters in the Pac-12 and in the country. I’m so proud of Race. I’m so proud of where he started and now where he’s ending as a Dawg.”
But when one previously inconceivable journey ends, another begins.
Porter’s senior season at O’Dea earned him an opportunity at Washington.
His senior season at Washington may earn him an opportunity in the NFL.
“I think if the opportunity comes up, that’s my goal,” said Porter, who also launched a clothing brand called “Homs” (Heart on My Sleeve) with best friend Myles Gaskin to address issues around mental health in 2019. “The books that I’ve been reading talk about finding your motivating factors. I think one of my motivating factors is trying to push the limit of what I thought I was capable of as an athlete.
“Growing up playing sports, you always want to play at the highest level you could possibly play at. Right now that is looking like the NFL for me. So I would love to (play in the NFL) if I get the opportunity. I’ll try to make the most of it. That’s the dream.”