LEWISTON – In his early years at Washington State, Erik Powell would often spend hours on end of his own time spraying kicks through the uprights, hoping constant repetition would generate the muscle memory needed to convert big-time field goals in big-time games.
Powell tallied the kicks up one summer and estimates he hit close to 1,000. And those are only the “charted ones” he said, “so that’s after warmup kicks.”
But Powell is a fifth-year senior now, which means his wisdom has finally caught up with his strong left leg. Individual workouts are more of a quality over quantity endeavor these days for the Cougar kicker and simply getting reps in isn’t nearly as important as making sure each one has a purpose.
“Not just going out there and kicking hundreds of kicks or as many as possible, and really taking advantage of every single, say kicking live, treating that as a game rep,” Powell said earlier in the week following WSU’s practice at Sacajawea Junior High in Lewiston. “Because we only have so many more practices until the game, so try to make every single one of those kicks the same as possible as a game kick. So once you get there, you’re not doing anything different, not trying to switch anything.”
Powell’s practices this offseason were more concise. But they were more constructive.
He spent the first half of his summer focused on volume. Swinging your leg through a ball until your limbs become sore can still be healthy from a conditioning standpoint. But Powell took a more meticulous approach to the final few months of his offseason.
Fewer kicks, more attention to detail.
“So I may only go out after my warmup kicks and hit only like 10 balls, but treat them like game ones,” Powell said. “I’ll go out, set one up, go back to the sideline, go out kick it and then do that same thing. So I’ll be out there for 30-35 minutes, but I may only kick like eight to 10 balls.”
Powell hopes the new tactics bring more consistency to his senior season. In 2016, he missed his first five tries, going 0-for-1 in five separate games before connecting on two crucial field goals against UCLA in a game the Cougars won by six points.
“It’s kind of like the Series of Misfortunate Events, or whatever that movie was,” special teams coach Eric Mele said of Powell’s early-season drought. “Lemony Snickett or whatever it was called.”
Something clicked because the Vancouver, Washington, native saw just one more attempt sail wide the rest of the season. He finished 7-of-8, missing only a 51-yarder in the loss at Coloardo. And the Cougars have never worried about Powell in point-after scenarios. He’s been lights-out, missing just two PATs in 120 tries.
“He’s a resilient kid … he’s been here our whole run,” Mele said. “Five years. So he’s seen it all. He’s made kicks, he’s missed kicks. He’s made ones that matter, so there’s nothing else they can throw at him this point that he hasn’t seen before.”
Added Mele: “He has the capability to start this year the way he finished last year.”
A few more tools that have been useful for Powell? Game film and Andrew Furney.
The current Coug kicker is still close friends with the former one and Powell occasionally sends his practice footage to Furney for feedback. Furney kicked field goals in Pullman from 2010-13 before landing with the New York Jets organization. The Jets released him, but Furney still works on his craft and helps others learn it. Powell recently gave his mentor a hand during a camp for up-and-coming specialists.
“He loves talking, so he’s good at it,” Powell said. “But just basically approach, the consistency and why you’re doing these things, basically your approach to the ball.”
“A lot of kicking terms,” he laughed. “I don’t want to bore you.”