PULLMAN – Austin Apodaca might have the upper hand in this competition.
But you never know. Mike Bowlin is right there, too.
The graduation of quarterback David Gilbertson has left Washington State’s football team with a void at an often overlooked position: The Cougars have spent this spring, and will likely spend a certain amount of practices in the fall, in search of their new starting holder for Andrew Furney’s field-goal and point-after- touchdown attempts.
Apodaca, a redshirt freshman quarterback, and Bowlin, a senior kicker and punter, are the top two candidates at the moment, though sophomore receiver Brett Bartolone has also taken some reps there. Special teams coach Eric Russell wants to solidify the No. 3 spot sooner rather than later.
“I know what we’d do if we were going out there today,” Russell said after Thursday’s practice. “And I think there’s two guys that have stepped up and done a good job, and then a third – though that we’ve got to find, without question – and probably open it up to some more candidates. I think Furney’s confident with either Bowlin or Apodaca.”
Apodaca is already familiar with the position, having held for placekicks throughout high school. Bowlin said he’s never done it before, but he enjoys it and thinks it could be a positive addition to his resume as a kicker.
“Teams at the next level obviously like it if you can do another position, like hold,” Bowlin said.
“This is actually my first year holding, but as a kicker you always just go out there and hold for your fellow kickers just for practice, just for fun.”
The biggest adjustment for Apodaca, he said, is getting used to holding without a tee – that’s allowed in high school – and placing the ball with his left hand instead of his right.
Otherwise, the Longmont, Colo., native said his high-school knowledge came back to him pretty easily.
“It came right back to me, just because I did it since I was a freshman in high school so it’s kind of just a simple transition,” said Apodaca, who, by the way, is also battling Connor Halliday for the team’s starting quarterback job. “It’s a little bit different, obviously, without the tee, but I always loved doing it. I thought I was pretty good at it and I tried it out, and Coach liked it.”
Bowlin and Furney are good friends, and Apodaca also said he’s close with Furney, so holder-kicker chemistry doesn’t appear to be an issue.
Russell’s biggest concern is obvious: find someone who can catch the snap and put the ball down in a fashion that lends itself to being kicked quickly and accurately by Furney.
“You’ve got to make sure that everyone’s set and everyone’s on the field and everything,” Apodaca said. “But I think probably the most important part is making sure the ball’s set because without the ball being set, they can’t kick it.”
Apodaca, who Russell said has been consistent all spring, gives WSU more of a versatile element at the position, because he’s mobile and can obviously throw the ball if the Cougars want to mix in fakes every now and then.
But, Russell said, “we need to get good at certain things first before we get good at that.”
Prior to what Russell described as a “bad day” on Saturday, Bowlin had performed capably at the position. And Apodaca’s holds “have been good and been money.”
“We’re a lot closer than we were Day 1 of spring,” Russell said.