PULLMAN – It’s hard not to notice Mike Bowlin.
That seems an odd statement, since Bowlin is a kicker, and kickers tend not to get noticed until they miss a chip-shot field goal in the waning seconds of a close game on national television.
Still, Bowlin has managed to stand out during Washington State’s first six spring practices, and not just because he’s 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds. It’s because he’s always moving, always physically engaged, never standing still.
While the offense and defense are in pass skeleton, Bowlin might jog back and forth on the opposite field. Or dribble a soccer ball. Or kick field goals off to the side, aiming at the large metal pole situated just beyond the goal posts, which he hits with regularity.
“I’m not going to get better if I’m just standing there on the sidelines,” said Bowlin, a junior who transferred from Saddleback Junior College in Mission Viejo, Calif. “If I’m out there at least getting warm, dribbling a ball around or kicking field goals or whatever, (I) just try to get as good as I can every day.”
He has the attitude of a player thankful for the opportunity he’s been given by coach Mike Leach. In Bowlin’s case, that means a second chance to earn a job as a Pac-12 kicker.
Bowlin signed with Oregon out of Aliso Niguel High School in California, ranked at the time as the No. 3 kicker in the nation by Scout.com. He redshirted the 2009 season and was expected to compete for the starting job in 2010.
Then, as Bowlin said, “I screwed things up.”
A January 2010 fight eventually resulted in a misdemeanor harassment charge against him. He left the team that February.
His dream of kicking at a Pac-12 school was over, for the time being. But Bowlin knew he could make it back.
“Through guidance of many different people, I realized I still had an opportunity to play in college because I have a huge leg,” Bowlin said. “And it was a talent that I didn’t really want to give up.”
So he transferred to Saddleback, where he made 11 of 15 field goals as a sophomore and booted 14 touchbacks.
“I got hooked up with a great group of friends, and I was focused on one thing – getting back into a big D-I school,” Bowlin said. “I stayed out of trouble and focused on school.”
San Jose State offered him a scholarship, and he was committed to the Spartans before Leach and special teams coach Eric Russell called him the night before junior college signing day in December.
Not wanting to risk his scholarship offer from San Jose State, Bowlin told WSU coaches the only way he could be a Cougar was if they could get a letter of intent to him overnight.
They did, and he signed it without even taking a recruiting trip.
Russell said his plan is to have Bowlin handle kickoffs and develop “into a Pac-12 punter,” and eventually compete with junior Andrew Furney for placekicking duties.
Russell also said WSU wasn’t scared off by the Oregon situation.
“Just talking to him and some other people around him, we felt comfortable,” Russell said. “Talking to his parents, looking them eye to eye and telling them this was a second chance and a great opportunity for him.”
And for the Cougars, who could use a strong-legged kicker to help solve their kick-coverage woes. After Tuesday’s practice, Leach motioned beyond the field and said “he can kick it over that building right there.”
On Tuesday he sent a 39-yard field goal over the fence well beyond the goalposts at Rogers Field on Tuesday. Furney made all three of his attempts with a long of 42 yards, while Bowlin missed at least one.
“He absolutely killed it today in field goals, went 3 for 3,” Bowlin said. “I just happened to have a bad day in field goals. I’m going to try to get better.”
He always is.
Notes: Quarterback Connor Halliday returned to practice for the first time since the team’s spring opener, wearing pads and participating in all drills except team session. … Linebacker Darryl Monroe and defensive end Jordan Pu’u Robinson, both of whom sat out Saturday’s practice, were full participants. … Defensive tackle Justin Clayton, who injured his knee during Saturday’s scrimmage, was on crutches with his leg in a large brace. … Running back Lawrence Tuioti is no longer on the roster. … Cornerback Nolan Washington, running back Rickey Galvin, running back Kruger Story, cornerback Spencer Waseem, cornerback Brandon Golden, cornerback Travion Smith, safety Max Gama, defensive end Adam Coerper, offensive lineman Wade Jacobson, offensive lineman Joe Dahl and defensive end Hamza Griffin were also limited. Leach does not disclose injury information.