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Cutting out social media helped Washington State’s Blake Mazza focus on converting kicks

Washington State placekicker Blake Mazza (40) kicks during the second half of a college football game on September 7 at Martin Stadium in Pullman. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

PULLMAN – What’s the correlation between Blake Mazza’s Instagram usage and his field goal percentage?

Cutting out the first allowed Mazza to improve on the second, he maintains, and Washington State’s placekicker believes the less time he spent scrolling through photos, browsing through tweets and checking up on his peers in the kicking world was not an insignificant part of the most accurate season in school history.

Mike Leach probably didn’t expect his mid-October social media ban to impact his redshirt sophomore specialist more than anyone else on the depth chart – the purpose of it being to “quit tweeting about football or anything frivolous during the season.”

In hindsight, Mazza thinks reduced time on Instagram, Twitter and other social platforms helped him concentrate on lifting kicks through the uprights, rather than focusing on distractions that may have impeded his objective on the field.

“It actually helped out with me not focusing on how many field goals I needed to be at the top of the list,” Mazza said. “And it allowed me to go kick by kick.”

Mazza met with local reporters on Saturday for the first time since returning from the awards circuit. The Cougars’ second-year kicker is much more seasoned when it comes to media obligations after a trip to Atlanta for the College Football Home Depot Awards show, where the Plano, Texas, native was up for the Lou Groza Award, along with Georgia’s Rodrigo Blankenship, the eventual winner, and Iowa’s Keith Duncan.

“I think a lot of guys know guys in the conference, around the country who they’re competing against,” Mazza said. “And for kickers, it’s like, ‘All right, this guy’s going 5-for-5 this week. All right, that means next week I’ve got to go 6-for-6.’ And stuff like that.

“I think for me it was awesome just to not see the other guys posting about the kicks they made, or something like that. And me, it wasn’t looking up media articles about myself, but really comparing myself to others.”

One of just three kickers in the country with a single miss on at least 20 attempts, Mazza finished the year 20-of-21 – his season highlighted by a 50-yard field goal against New Mexico State and a 51-yarder against Utah on a rainy, windy night in Salt Lake City. The other Groza finalists didn’t log a kick of 50 yards or more but, playing for teams that resorted to field goals more often than Mazza’s, they each had at least 30 attempts.

Mazza carried a perfect streak – 18-for-18 – into WSU’s home finale against Oregon State, but on a chilly November night in Pullman, when the football flew more like a boulder than a balloon, the Plano, Texas, native saw a 48-yard try hang wide left of the upright.

“I went into that kick and honestly it wasn’t going through my head,” Mazza said. “Before the game, I make sure to really think about it like one kick at a time. I mean, shoot, I’m going to miss at some point in my career, whether it’s a year later professionally, whatever it is. I’m not going to continue to make kicks. So after that 48-yarder I missed, it was just something you rebound to. … If anything it helped me. Gave me a breather. I can just reset.”

While Mazza was the one rubbing shoulders with a few of the top players in college football – the kicker said he spent time with Minnesota’s Casey O’Brien, the Disney Spirit Award recipient, and Oregon’s Justin Herbert and Penei Sewell – he credited his superb year and runner-up Lou Groza finish to the Cougars’ special teams “operation” and called a group that includes field goal snapper Tyler Williams and holder Oscar Draguicevich III “the best (operation) in the conference, if not in the country.”

Mazza, who’s attempted a field goal in 11 of 12 games this season, may have a few more field goals in him as the Cougars prepare to play Air Force in the Dec. 27 Cheez-It Bowl. Even if he isn’t called on, Mazza hopes to make the most of a trip to Phoenix. He could have a chance to meet specialist celebrity Pat McAfee, the former Indianapolis Colt punter-turned-pro wrestling analyst, Thursday Night Football host and radio personality.

“We’re going to make it happen,” Mazza said of meeting McAfee, who’s been tabbed the game’s “Master of Cheez” and will view the game from a two-story Cheez-It box. “I promise you we will make it happen. He’s a ‘For the Brand’ representative, obviously an NFL specialist. Legend.

“He ran some of the (kicking) camps that I’ve gone to. He’s done some stuff with Kohl’s kicking. He’s one of their guys. Seeing him at those camps, then obviously on TV with the Colts and (Adam) Vinatieri. That operation of Adam Vinatieri and Pat McAfee back in the day was just ridiculous.”