PULLMAN – Kyle Sweet was throwing footballs when he arrived at Santa Margarita High School in 2011. By 2012, he was catching them. Now he’s punting them.
Throughout his football career, Sweet, a junior at Washington State, has seemingly done everything short of line up at nose tackle. But he’d probably oblige if asked.
“Swiss Army knife,” said WSU special teams coach Eric Mele, bestowing the most appropriate possible nickname on the Rancho Santa Margarita, California, native. “He’s confident in his abilities. Whatever it is, whether it be catching a ball or punting a ball.”
Job A is catching a ball. That’s what brought Sweet, an inside receiver, to Pullman in the first place. At Santa Margarita High, he broke school records for catches (151) and receiving yards (2,420) while hauling in 22 career touchdowns.
He effectively helped SMHS replace a standout receiver named River Cracraft. Now, five years later, Sweet has an identical task.
More than two weeks into WSU camp, he seemd to be the leading candidate to take over for Cracraft at “Y” receiver. Cracraft leaves WSU after catching 218 passes. Gabe Marks is the only player in school history who’s reeled in more balls.
“It sucks that Gabe and Riv are gone,” Sweet said earlier this month after a practice at Lewiston’s Sacajawea Junior High. “… But it’s time for us to step up as a receiving group and just ball out.”
The Cougars hope to see Sweet prancing into the end zone plenty this season. For an offense that never sleeps, it’s what they expect. For Sweet, that would also mean less time doing Job B.
On the side, the 6-0, 193-pound wideout is WSU’s first choice at punter. He’s perfected the art of the rugby punt, a variation of the drop kick that lacks the hang time of a traditional punt but if executed properly, gives the cover team a few more seconds to get down field. And Sweet is as precise as they come.
After receiving the snap, he rolls out to his right – a left-footed punter would go the opposite way – and holds onto the ball until he senses that the defense is near. Then he boots it away. That should give the cover team a few more seconds to reach the returner and the returner less space to to break off a big run. The operation is deemed a success, Sweet says, if the punt is “unreturnable.”
“Every second or half a second he can hold the ball back there, you’re gaining 5 yards of coverage down the field,” Mele said. “So if he can hold the ball for an extra second, that’s when the ball gets snapped, we’re talking our guys on coverage unit start 10 yards further down the field.”
So how did the Cougars reveal Sweet’s hidden talent? It’s another story that begins in southern California at Santa Margarita High, where Sweet was not only the most prolific receiver in school history, but also the punter. (His third duty was quarterbacking the Eagles’ wildcat formation.)
Last fall Mele had been experimenting with rugby punt formations, but his guinea pig was dinged up so the WSU assistant needed a replacement. One of the SMHS grads did it in high school, he remembered, so Mele first went to Cracraft. Cracraft redirected him to Sweet.
“So I go to Kyle and go, ‘You realize we just put this whole scheme in and you rugby punted in high school, but you haven’t said a word to me,’” Mele said. “I was like, ‘Let me see you punt a couple.’ So then I threw him a few 50-yard punts and I was just kind of shaking my head. Typical Kyle Sweet.”
Sweet was responsible for 32 of WSU’s 47 punts in 2016. He averaged 38.2 yards per punt and drilled a long punt of 58 yards. Zach Charme, the Cougars’ traditional punter, punted only eight times. Aware that his opportunities at WSU would be few and far between, Charme transferred to Idaho this offseason.
And Sweet continues to be the Cougars’ jack of all trades – an offensive weapon at times, a specialist at others. Not that any of this is new to him.
“I didn’t know in high school I was going to even be a receiver, or let alone a punter in college,” Sweet said. “But things happen for a reason and I’m happy about it.”
Vandals reach out to Sorenson
Since receiving his first cancer diagnosis, former Washington State offensive lineman Riley Sorenson has received an outpour of well wishes from football coaches and teammates.
Most of them have come from his own coaches and teammates. On Thursday, another program reached out.
On Thursday, Sorenson received 16 personalized greeting cards from the Idaho football team. Sorenson is currently undergoing chemotherapy after learning this summer his cancer had returned.
Sorenson’s girlfriend Elisabeth Haffner tweeted a photo of the cards and posted this message: “Today Riley received a packet of 16 cards from the University of Idaho Vandals football team. Coaches, fellow offensive linemen, and players offered their support and encouragement. It was a wonderful reminder that, “it’s bigger than football,” and we are so grateful to our friends (and rivals!) east of the border for reaching out.”
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