It accounted for 115 points (a Pac-12 high) last season. It didn’t miss until late November. It bailed Washington State out two years ago at Stanford, as the Cougars closed in on the best record in program history.
Blake Mazza’s right leg is undoubtedly one of the most valuable assets on Washington State’s football team. Last year, it earned the now-redshirt- junior kicker a trip to Orlando, Florida, for the College Football Awards ceremony where he was one of three finalists for the Lou Groza Award. This year, Mazza is hopeful the trophy will be coming home with him.
But the kicker’s goals were met by unforeseen obstacles this offseason when COVID-19 engulfed the country, shutting down the high-school fields in Texas where Mazza would normally take his summer reps and closing the gyms where he’d work on building his golden right leg.
Mazza was discouraged, but not deterred. Without traditional weight machines or squat racks, the All-Pac-12 first team specialist sought out a way to maintain his strength — maybe even improve it. It just so happened Mazza’s parents were landscaping the front yard of their Plano, Texas, home while the kicker was in town. A tree needed to go. Mazza saw an opportunity.
“We were trimming down a tree in my front yard and got this huge stump and actually sawed little lines into each side, left side and right side, and actually tied two gasoline jugs, filled them up with water and were doing squats with it,” Mazza said. “Lunges, stuff like that. Just to maintain strength since I didn’t have any access to a gym or anything.”
Mazza’s father, Matt, estimated the 8-foot long trunk weighed nearly 100 pounds on its own. Add on the gas cans and Mazza’s makeshift barbell was probably in the ballpark of 150 pounds.
Although he stayed away from local high-school fields in the Dallas suburbs, Mazza occasionally gathered up a bag of footballs and a tee, and drove until he found a park or suitable patch of grass. The kicker took aim at trees, light posts, power lines and anything else vaguely resembling an upright.
“It was just crazy times,” Mazza said. “… Back home in Texas, in the Dallas area they’re pretty strict. Just getting on fields and fines. They were getting pretty big with that. Not trying to get any fines. I’m getting married next year and I need money saved up, I need to be ready. I can’t be wasting this. So we just went to a grass field.”
Elsewhere in the Lone Star State, WSU punter Oscar Draguicevich III was willing to take a gamble with local law enforcement. A former Ray Guy Award watchlist nominee who ranked second in the Pac-12 for punting average each of the last two seasons, Draguicevich would scale fences around Hutto, a suburb of Austin, if it meant finding a field long enough to contain his 50- and 60-yard bombs.
“Of course our schools were shut down,” Draguicevich said, “but in the meantime I would jump the fence and do as much punting as I could before the cops would come kick me off the field.”
Draguicevich didn’t have a gym to fall back on, but he had a marginally better setup than his fellow specialist and close friend, Mazza.
“While I was home, we actually have a super-old bench press we can also make into a squat rack. It’s really rusty,” Draguicevich said. “But I would get my workouts on that.”
The punter spent much of his summer working for his father as a machinist, setting up computer numerical control mills at Centex Machining Inc. From time to time, the elder Draguicevich would catch his son performing punt-drop drills during work hours.
“He’s so determined to be great!” the father said in a text message. “It’s awesome.”
Though it’s hard to imagine anyone topped Mazza in creativity points, other WSU players found inventive ways to stay in shape with facilities closed across the country.
Deon McIntosh had better-than-average equipment in his Pompano Beach, Florida, garage, but the fifth-year senior running back probably benefited from his training partners more than anything else.
McIntosh’s younger brother, Kenny, is a sophomore running back for No. 4 Georgia, and his older brother RJ is a second-string defensive end for the NFL New York Giants.
Deon, Kenny and RJ all retreated to the Sunshine State this offseason, exhausting themselves through morning workouts to avoid Florida’s afternoon humidity.
“So we were all together, every day, on that grind,” McIntosh said. “Get up in the morning, handle our business, then you’d have the rest of your day to yourself. We were doing a lot.”
The brothers spent lots of time in their home gym, but they’d also get outside for hill sprints. Without weight sleds readily available, pushing cars up and down streets of their South Florida neighborhood wasn’t an unusual part of the training regimen, either.
“I feel like quarantine was something to set me up so when I get back here, I’ll be ready to go,” McIntosh said.
While most Cougars were scattered across the country, a handful of WSU players elected to stay in Pullman during the national shutdown. The football operations building shut its doors in March, meaning players were barred from the 11,153-square-foot strength and conditioning complex for the better part of four months.
McIntosh’s position mate, Max Borghi, made incline conditioning a part of his routine, too, running and pedaling up and down Pullman’s hilly roads until he gained access to a legitimate weight facility.
“Prime COVID, I bought myself a bike and I was biking every single hill, or running every single hill in Pullman just to stay active,” Borghi said. “But I slowly got access to a weight room and started training and it slowly started to come back together.”
Count quarterback Cammon Cooper lucky. Utah’s state restrictions were much looser than those elsewhere, and the redshirt sophomore, now in the thick of a race for WSU’s starting job, had access to local fields earlier than teammates in Washington, Florida, Texas and California.
“Utah was pretty lenient with everything going on, so that was a huge advantage for me personally, being able to get more workouts in early on through that process,” he said. “Then I got back up here and we had a whole protocol going on, just doing everything right. … Just trying to get places where we could get the ball thrown was also a little hard to figure out at first, but once we got it … it was good to get those reps in.”