August 22, 2008

Kicking & Punting Should Be Strength in 2008

The battle for kicking and punting duties isn't as up in the air as some of the other positions. In reality, barring injuries, it's not really up in the air at all.

Punter is locked down with 5-foot-11, 175-pound senior Jared Ballman returning. Ballman ranked sixth in the Pac-10 last season with a 40.9 punt average - good for the 10th highest average in Washington history. His 71 punts were good the six highest total in Husky history.

"That's a no brainer," responded Special Teams Coach Brian White when asked if Ballman is on track to be the starting punter.

Backing up Ballman at punter should be redshirt freshman Kiel Rasp.

Ballman also handled all kickoffs for the Huskies last season and will most likely be announced as the starter once again when the official depth chart is released. However, 5-foot-10, 190-pound redshirt freshman Erik Folk will give Ballman plenty of competition at the position.

"Probably kickoffs," replied Folk when asked what position he will most likely see playing time at the soonest. "I've always had a really strong leg, so kickoffs have always been my strong point."

Folk, who was rated as the nation's 10th best kicker for the class of 2007 by Rivals.com, will also compete for field goal duties.

"I could be doing a lot better, but I'm doing alright right now," explained Folk. "I need to be a little more consistent. I feel like I'm holding back a little bit on kickoffs, and not getting my leg fully swinging. Field goals - I can be a lot more consistent."

Junior Ryan Perkins has been through a lot in his time at Montlake. During the 2006 spring game, former Husky Caesar Rayford inadvertently ran into Perkins while he was punting, tearing every ligament in his knee. It took not one, but two surgeries just to have Perkins' knee working properly. If that wasn't enough, Perkins is now beginning to suffer from arthritis.

"It's terrible, watching him with his knee - it's looks like a balloon," expressed Folk. "I hate seeing him like that. It's very impressive though to see him work through it."

Perkins feels he is constantly making strides though.

"Big time - overall strength, height of the ball, distance," exclaimed Perkins when asked if he's made improvements. "I had more of the accuracy last year, now the other stuff is coming back into play with my knee being rehabilitated and stuff like that."

Folk is no stranger to injuries either. During his freshman year of high school, he tore his ACL. Folk was expected to compete for the starting job last season, but reported to camp with back pain, which turned out to be a fractured vertebra. However, Folk is now fully healed and looking to compete for playing time.

"It makes us work harder," said Folk of the competition. "If one guy does a little better than the other two, work harder - it makes us all better in the end."

Folk's older brother, Nick Folk played kicker for the University of Arizona before being drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the sixth round of the 2007 NFL Draft.

"We ask each other how the other is doing," explained Folk. "Throughout the years, I've learned a lot from him."

Ballman may used this season to attempt longer field goals, given his leg strength and Perkins' knee problems.

"That hasn't clearly shown itself, but we'll use the best guy," explained Washington Head Coach Tyrone Willingham. "Jared does have a wonderful leg, but the leg is just not enough, you have to be accurate with it too and hit them. But we haven't made any decisions there."

One thing is for certain, with both starters returning and an emerging kicker battling for playing time, Husky fans shouldn't worry about field goals and punts.

"It should be," responded Perkins when asked if kicking and punting will be a strength this season. "Jared and I had a good combination last year - him doing the punting and kickoffs and me doing the field goals. I thought we honed in on it, especially towards the middle of the season. We really seemed like we were clicking, and I think we can carry that over into this season, because he's a darn good kickoff guy and great punter. We can kind of back each other, so it works out."

Perkins is also confident in White's ability.

"He's an excellent coach. He's really amped up our special teams. He's got a lot more energy than any other coach that I've ever been around," expressed Perkins. "He's a good guy in gerneral and he relates to the players. I'm excited to see what he does this year for our team."

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