LEWISTON – It’s a fair assumption that the most jubilant reaction to kicker Andrew Furney 51-yard, game-winning field goal for the New York Jets in his first NFL preseason game Thursday night came not in Yonkers or Poughkeepsie, but 2,500 miles to the west.
The affection Washington State fans had for Furney over the last four years bordered on hero worship, and their fondness for the “fat kicker” grew even as he shed pounds.
He rarely missed, had range out to 60 yards and, more than anything else, his relentlessly jovial nature always gave fans something to scream for, even during the team’s lean years.
That local fame will undoubtedly be tough to reproduce at a position where success usually means anonymity because of a lack of conspicuous failures.
But somebody has to follow Furney and the job appears to have fallen to Erik Powell, a redshirt freshman from Bremerton who resembles Furney in neither style nor appearance.
“He’s the complete opposite of Furney,” special teams coordinator Eric Russell said. “He’s long, he’s lean, he’s left-footed. But hopefully he can make people not forget Andrew, but make people be more excited for what we’ve got the next few years.”
The results out of spring practice gave reason for optimism. Powell missed only three kicks all spring, making 25 and showing the same consistency, if not quite the leg, that WSU fans have grown accustomed to.
As long as his kickers make everything from 40-yards and in, Russell considers everything longer than that to be gravy. While now the offense is going to need to gain a few more yards before the team is in field-goal range, Powell’s 45-yarders are plenty long enough for now. And besides, Furney didn’t have such a big leg as a freshman.
Fall camp, however, gave some cause for concern. The uneven grass at Sacajawea Junior High in Lewiston proved to be an infertile proving ground for special teams, and Powell missed more kicks in just a couple practices than he had all spring.
“Obviously, the first couple days of field goals were a little rough,” Powell said. “People have been saying it’s the grass or whatever. That’s part of it but you can’t be missing field goals here and there. It started rough but I’ve been getting back in the groove and I think overall it’s been good, and hopefully I’ll keep it going through the start of the season.”
Powell has made his last five field goals, including both his attempts in Saturday’s scrimmage and a pair from 40 yards on Sunday. That isn’t going to make him a finalist for the Lou Groza Award, but it’s a start.
“It seems like he’s hitting the last couple days, hitting the ball better and I like where he’s at, but I’m not satisfied,” Russell said. “We’ve got a ways to go to be game-ready.”
If it seems like that sudden improvement indicates a player who is still learning the position, it’s because Powell is. Few high school coaches have any expertise in the subtle mechanics of field-goal kicking, and Powell was left to teach himself until last season.Who was his first real teacher? Why, none other than Furney.
“I’m really glad I had that year before to learn from him,” Powell said.
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