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WSU’s Forrest crafts himself into fine punter

Punter Reid Forrest, left, and kicker Nico Grasu, are both back this season.  (FILE)
Punter Reid Forrest, left, and kicker Nico Grasu, are both back this season. (FILE)

Note: This is the fifth of eight position previews of Washington State University’s 2010 football team. Today: Special teams. Friday: Defensive backs.

PULLMAN – Reid Forrest has had one of the better college football careers among this year’s Washington State University seniors.

One of the busiest as well. And the most expensive.

Forrest has been the Cougars punter the past three years. He’s been called on to perform that duty 209 times, third-most in WSU history and only 46 behind Kyle Basler’s school record.

His punts, combined, have traveled nearly five miles and have stayed in the air more than 15 minutes.

By the end of this season he’ll likely hold WSU career marks in total punts and punting yardage. He’s killed 46 punts inside the 20 in his career, not Basler-esque – Basler had 76 in his four years in Pullman – but still an impressive total.

Forrest is, simply put, the best at his position among the Cougars.

And possibly the most overlooked.

Despite his 43.2-yard average, 18 inside the 20 and at least a dozen more attempts than anyone in the conference last season, Forrest was only an honorable mention All-Pac-10 selection.

Still, not too shabby for a wanna-be wide receiver who came to Pullman from Ephrata High in 2006 hoping to follow in the footsteps of his father Jim, a Cougar tight end in the early 1970s. But then coach Bill Doba saw the younger Forrest’s future diverging to another path.

And that’s where the expense comes in.

“Coach Doba sent me down to (freelance kicking coach) Chris Sailer,” said Forrest of the summer after his freshman year. “He said, ‘Here’s a guy you need to go see, go see him this summer, learn how to punt.’

“So Coach gave me his name, I flew (to California) and basically started from scratch.”

It was the first of 10 trips Forrest and his family has paid for to improve his craft.

It’s worked, as he’s improved his average (from 40.5 as a freshman to 43.2 last year) and hang time each year. But it’s been expensive for a guy who also paid his way to WSU the first two years. He estimates the camps have cost more than $5,000.

But there may be a long-term payoff.

“He’s got a chance to play at the next level,” said WSU first-year coach Dave Ungerer, who has coached special teams around the nation for more than two decades. “He’s got a really strong leg, good hang time and he’s a really good athlete. Those are things they look for.”

Like many colleges, WSU doesn’t have anyone dedicated to coaching punting or kicking, so Forrest and the kickers, senior Nico Grasu and freshman Andrew Furney, have to hone their craft in the offseason, then help each other stay in the groove during the year.

“You basically get all your work done then,” Forrest said, “with coaches you fly out and go see and pay out of your own pocket. You keep your eyes and ears open during those camps, take good notes and bring as many drills back with you as you can.

“And then it just becomes a habit you have to have once the season starts.”

Forrest’s spot is secure, but Grasu and Furney, the walk-on from Burlington, Wash., who tied the state record with 14 field goals last season, are battling for the place-kicking duties.

“They’re going back-and-forth,” Ungerer said. “I think Nico for sure will be the kickoff guy and by the end of this week we’ll kind of decide, because they’re pretty close in the field-goal competition.

“It’s been a good, healthy competition.”

Grasu, the hero of the 2008 Apple Cup, has the experience, which may give him the edge early on, but Furney has shown a strong, accurate leg in camp.

The Cougars are also set at long snapper, where reliable senior Zach Enyeart is holding down the position for the fourth consecutive season.

The return spots are still undecided, Ungerer said, but with WSU opening on the road in a hostile environment, experience will be crucial.

Senior Chantz Staden, who set WSU records in kickoff returns (43) and yardage (970) before his 2008 season ended in a major knee injury, looks to be the main kickoff return threat again.