PULLMAN – First, understand something: Eric Russell thinks very highly of Andrew Furney.
Washington State’s junior kicker has done what’s been asked of him from Day 1, says Russell, the Cougars’ special-teams coordinator, so it’s no surprise that Furney was voted by his teammates to be one of five team captains when WSU opens its season at Brigham Young on Thursday.
But there were a few concerns the first time Russell and Furney spoke about his role on the team.
Chief among them, Russell said, was that “he looked more like me than a player.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Russell thought at the time. “I hope the rest of them look better than this guy. That’s what I thought, to be honest with you. I couldn’t believe it.”
Yes, Furney is a little heavier than the average kicker, a subject given no shortage of play on fan websites and message boards. No, his weight has never prevented him from being successful on the football field. He made 14 of his 16 field-goal attempts last season, and was a perfect 5 for 5 on tries 40 yards or longer.
Still, WSU in January signed junior college transfer Michael Bowlin, a big-legged prospect who has assumed the Cougars’ kickoff and punt duties.
Furney worried he might not hold on to his place-kicking job, either. He told Russell this in their first conversation, something that didn’t sit well with the coach.
“Our first conversation didn’t go real pleasant,” Russell said. “It was hold it – are you kidding me? We haven’t gone a snap yet and you’re in here worrying about this? You’ve got to be worrying about the pipes.
“From that day on, Furney’s just been a joy to be around.”
He dedicated the offseason to getting in better shape, and cut 10 pounds from his listed weight of 231 at the beginning of last season.
When WSU practiced their stretching formation prior to its spring game, Furney was chosen as one of the team leaders, shouting instructions enthusiastically and eliciting a positive response. It’s obvious his teammates enjoy his easygoing personality, which Russell describes as “awesome. He can be serious when we’re serious. He’s competitive by nature. He can be a little bit loose and funny at times.”
Coach Mike Leach even said he thinks Furney should consider coaching when he’s done playing. When Furney speaks, others listen.
“You kind of have to meet this guy,” Leach said. “He’s a very engaging individual. I don’t know what he’s majoring in. He probably ought to coach. He has a real good sense of our team and kind of the pulse of our team.
“There’s quite a bit more dimension to his mentality and his impact on this team than you would expect from a kicker. He’s one of those guys that kind of holds things together. Very common sense, very level-headed, and kind of really does a good job of seeing things for what they are.”
It didn’t take long for Russell to see Furney for what he was, either.
“He’s a competitive kid. He loves playing football. He’s a Cougar through and through,” Russell said. “He’s for these guys. I think they see that. That’s kind of what they respect him for. He’s doing a lot of the same work these guys are doing.
“He’s pleasant, I think he’s dependable, he’s accountable. I think he’s got a good work ethic.”
Senior quarterback Jeff Tuel, senior linebacker Travis Long, junior safety Deone Bucannon and senior tight end Andrei Lintz will join Furney as WSU’s team captains on Thursday. Players are not available for comment until after the BYU game.