Shut down after his two misses at Arizona State last season, Soderberg spent time this winter kicking with former UW All-American Jeff Jaeger.
Van Soderberg was 8 years old when his dad taught him how to kick a football. He soon began to dream of one day kicking for his favorite team, the Washington Huskies, and after a stellar career at Olympia’s Capital High School that dream came to be last fall at Husky Stadium.
Bright and confident, Soderberg has a lot going for him. He has plans. Big plans.
He has the highest grade-point average on the team, at 3.9, and last month he was accepted into UW’s Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies. He wants to someday work for the state department. Or maybe the CIA. Or maybe a non-profit.
“If,” he adds, “this football thing doesn’t work out.”
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All that’s in the future. For now, he trying to stay in the moment. To focus on each step, each kick. He’s trying not to look beyond that. And he’s certainly doesn’t want to look back too far, too deeply.
Last seen in a Husky uniform, Soderberg was walking off the field at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, not long after missing two field goals from distances (27 and 21 yards) that at any other time he could probably make with his eyes closed. The No. 5 Huskies were stunned that October night at Arizona State, 13-7.
A week earlier, the redshirt freshman had made his first career field-goal attempt, from 23 yards, back home at Husky Stadium. The night before playing Arizona State, before his first road game, Soderberg was told he would take over as the Huskies field-goal kicker.
The backlash on social media to his two misses was instantaneous, and it was vile.
“I remember when I got back to my locker, my phone was just a constant buzz,” Soderberg said. “And I opened and I couldn’t even count the number of notifications.”
The abuse toward him on social media caused Soderberg to quickly delete all of the social-media apps off his phone. Only recently did he start to get back onto a couple social-media networks, and that he says is mainly to stay in touch with family and friends. He tries to block out everything else.
“That was a pretty eye-opening (experience),” he said. “A lot of that noise is just, people don’t know what goes on and they never will, so it’s not really pertinent to what we’re doing here.
“It was tough,” he added. “I think mostly it was about, I felt like I didn’t do my job when I was most needed. So that’s what hurts the most. Whatever anybody else thinks, that’s their opinion.”
To be fair to Soderberg, it was an awful night all around for the Huskies at Arizona State. The offense was held to 230 total yards, the fewest they’ve had against any Pac-12 opponent in the Chris Petersen era. And during the game, two starters — all-Pac-12 left tackle Trey Adams (knee) and rising cornerback Jordan Miller (ankle) — were lost to season-ending injuries
Soderberg was done for the year, too.
The following week, Soderberg sat down with UW coach Chris Petersen, and the kicker remains appreciative of the coach’s support and encouragement. Many teammates were around to pick him up too, he said.
Throughout his career, Petersen has seen his share — maybe more than his share — wayward kicking, and at that point he felt it was best to shut down Soderberg for the remainder of the season.
Since then, Petersen has worked with Soderberg to help him rebuild confidence. It hasn’t been a straight-line process.
“I’ve been through this many times with kickers,” Petersen said earlier this month. “I’ve always had the philosophy of, one play may win a game (but) one play’s not going to lose a game.
“These guys care tremendously about what they’re doing. They get it. They care more than probably anybody that’s watching, so we’ve just got a figure out a way to help them compete at their best. And if it’s their best and it’s not good enough? Oh well. But if you think you’ve got more to you, and you think you’re better than that, that’s when you’ve got to try to help them get their mind right.”
Soderberg, the only scholarship kicker on the roster, is in a taut competition with three others this spring. The left-footed Peyton Henry, a redshirt freshman from Danville, Calif., has been taking most of the first-team kicks in recent practices, but the competition isn’t expected to be decided until the days before the Sept. 1 opener against Auburn.
“Coach Pete always tells me: ‘You just need to attack it. I’d rather have you miss that go full speed than miss holding back,’” Soderberg said. “I think he saw that at Arizona State last year, and that’s something I just need to work on. It’s an everyday process, you know, and I think I’m getting better.”
This winter, Soderberg spent time kicking with former UW All-American Jeff Jaeger. And he’s aware that, much like him, Chuck Nelson missed the first two kicks of his UW career — from, in a wild coincidence, 27 and 21 yards — before rebounding and eventually becoming an All-American for the Huskies.
Soderberg is trying to embrace a fresh start of his own. He still has big plans.
“It certainly took awhile,” he said, “but I feel like I’m getting in a good place, and I’m just trying to build from here.”