Erik Powell won the job in fall camp and has since been a beacon of consistency for WSU. He’s perfect on extra points and 5 of 6 on field goals, including a pair of clutch 46- and 47-yard conversions against Rutgers, but the biggest difference stems from his mind-set.
Last year’s Washington State-California game is best remembered for the 734 passing yards Conner Halliday hung on the Golden Bears’ defense en route to rewriting the NCAA passing record.
Yet, WSU still lost 60-59, and the enduring image from the dying seconds of that game was the potential game-winning 19-yard field goal Quentin Breshears pushed wide right.
Place-kicking was a trial for the Cougars in 2014. Erik Powell won the job in camp last year, only to lose it to Breshears after Powell missed two field goals against Nevada. Both kickers combined to finish the season 11 of 17, and WSU’s coaching staff brought in freshman Matt Abramo to challenge the kickers this season.
Erik Powell file
Year: Redshirt sophomore
Hometown: Vancouver, Wash.
Ht., Wt.: 6-1, 193
But as WSU (2-1) travels to Berkeley, Calif., to face No. 24 Cal (4-0) this weekend in its Pac-12 opener, Powell is the undisputed winner of the Cougars’ kicking competition.
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Powell won the job in camp and has since been a beacon of consistency for WSU. He’s perfect on extra points and 5 of 6 on field goals, including a pair of clutch 46- and 47-yard conversions against Rutgers, but the biggest difference stems from his mind-set.
“He was real determined about winning the job, and he did. He went out there and did it,” Cougars coach Mike Leach said.
Special-teams coach Eric Mele also says the redshirt sophomore from Vancouver, Wash., is a different athlete from the guy who missed the pair of field goals against Nevada last year.
“The first week in camp, the ball was popping off his foot,” Mele said.
A career soccer player, Powell only started kicking footballs in his junior year when his high school, Seton Catholic, started its first football team.
By his senior season, “he made the choice to transition from soccer to football,” said Powell’s father, Mark. “He had an opportunity to play on the Portland Timbers’ academy team, but he decided not to do that because he wanted to play football.”
Powell took a chance on himself. He turned down a scholarship to play soccer at Western Washington and walked on at WSU even though he knew he’d have to take out loans and work summers to play his tuition.
This summer, Mark Powell said his son stayed in Pullman working on his kicking while working a job cleaning dorms at WSU. Physically, he gained about nine pounds through the Cougars’ summer strength program, and now stands at 6 feet 1, 193 pounds.
Cal 60, WSU 59 by the numbers
734 Passing yards for Connor Halliday, an NCAA record.
812 Total yards of offense amassed by the Cougars.
28-28 The score for the third quarter. Each team scored four touchdowns in the period.
But Powell’s progress transcends the weight room and the football field. This offseason, Mele connected his kicker with North Carolina-based sports psychologist Patrick Young.
Powell was not made available to the media this week, but he gave Young permission to discuss the aspects of his game they worked on. Powell and Young had weekly phone counseling sessions through the end of fall camp.
“Confidence is huge for kickers. There’s so few opportunities in a game that if you miss one you can have that tendency to lose that confidence. You have to have that short-term memory, like a cornerback who gets beat on a pass,” Young said.
Young helped Powell direct his innate self-confidence into his kicking. He bolstered Powell’s belief in himself, and they worked on strategies to sharpen his concentration, increase his awareness of his surroundings and capitalize on his opportunities.
“With this year, there was no guarantee that he was going to be the starting kicker. He needed to think back to all the progress he’d made before — being an un-scholarshipped player, coming through and winning the job, going through adversity, losing the position and understanding that he had the physical ability to do it. He just had to believe in himself,” Young said.
Young taught Powell how to keep himself focused and engaged during games – something that’s often challenging for kickers because of how much down time they have on the sideline. That has made a huge difference for Powell mentally. When he steps onto the field now, he’s locked in and focused on a singular task. And he believes he will convert.
“His confidence has improved, and the team has confidence in him,” quarterback Luke Falk said. “He seems untouchable right now.”