Blake Mazza was on the phone with Washington State coach Nick Rolovich Wednesday morning and simultaneously navigating through the NCAA transfer portal page when he pressed submit, officially making one of college football’s most accomplished kickers a free agent.
As he was talking through his decision to leave Pullman with Rolovich, Mazza’s phone began buzzing and the Twitter notifications started to pile up.
By the time he got off the call, 20 FBS coaches had followed Mazza’s Twitter account and the “NCAA Transfer Portal” profile, created by Rivals.com, had already reported his entry, effectively scooping the kicker on his own announcement.
Mazza scrapped his original plan of contracting a graphic designer to make a social media edit in which he’d explain his reasons for leaving WSU and express gratitude toward the school.
Instead, he packed those thoughts into a 280-character tweet.
Before taking his golden right leg to another school, Mazza still had more to get off his chest. Twelve hours before boarding a plane home to the Dallas area, the kicker who leaves WSU with the school record for career field-goal percentage (85%) sat down with The Spokesman-Review to expand on his decision.
“It’s a decision I’ve solidified and I’m not going to lie, talking to my coaches this morning was a hard thing,” he said. “To this moment, I’m like, ‘Blake, are you making the right decision?’ ”
As Mazza explained in his tweet Wednesday, the decision primarily centered around family and playing within closer proximity to his hometown of Plano, Texas. Ideally, he’d prefer to play for a Power Five program in his home state, but those surrounding it, such as Oklahoma, Louisiana and Kansas, offer a variety of SEC and Big 12 options that would also meet Mazza’s criteria.
“I loved Pullman. I loved WSU and it’s a perfect situation, except it’s just not in the vicinity of my family and my home,” he said. “Getting married in the summer is going to be a big thing, so I think after this past season I was kind of full in and made up my mind.”
Last summer, Mazza got engaged to his longtime girlfriend, Makenzie Wise, with whom he’s maintained a long-distance relationship for three years.
Between 15 to 20 WSU teammates are expected to travel to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, for the couple’s wedding on June 17, which Mazza jokes will be a nice respite from intense summer workouts. Former WSU punter Oscar Draguicevich III is Mazza’s best man.
The COVID-19 pandemic reinforced family values for Mazza, whose grandfather died less than a year ago from complications not related to the coronavirus. The kicker lamented, “I wish he could’ve seen me play more.”
With trips to Pullman costing up to $2,000, his parents were only able to attend a handful of games every year.
“It’s nothing that WSU’s done and it’s all future-based – something I think is best for me and my family,” Mazza said.
Another factor wasn’t insignificant when it came to Mazza’s decision.
“Honestly, kicking in warmer weather, too,” he said.
Mazza did a fine job adapting to the chilly and random conditions Pullman usually threw at him, making 36 of 40 field goals in three seasons as WSU’s placekicker. Although Mazza registered fewer career attempts than most of WSU’s all-time greats, his field-goal percentage did nothing but soar in his final two seasons. He leaves Pullman having made 24 of his past 25 attempts.
He had the longest streak (18) of made field goals by a college kicker in 2019, set the school record for single-season percentage when he connected on 20 of 21, and became the first Lou Groza Award finalist in WSU history.
“I think we’ve done a really good job of elevating special teams here at WSU the past three years,” said Mazza, speaking on behalf of himself and Draguicevich, the Cougars’ all-conference punter who recently declared for the NFL draft, leaving as WSU’s career leader in career punting average. “Coming to WSU as a walk-on, WSU has already had great place-kickers here. Jason Hanson, Andrew Furney, Erik Powell. … Worked my butt off and I was happy about what I’ve done, and was on the winningest team in WSU history, got to experience GameDay.”
During the shortened 2020 season, Mazza made all four of his field goals and went 12 of 13 on extra-point attempts despite dealing with constant pain in his plant foot.
Coaches were able to lessen the kicker’s workload by using Draguicevich and Andrew Boyle on kickoffs, but Mazza felt pain every time he swung his leg through a field goal.
“You can see it after a couple kicks, I’ve kind of wobbled off the field and it’s been off,” Mazza said. “But got a ton of rehab on it, strengthening it. It’s just gotten weak over the years of consistently planting into it.”
To deal with the pain, Mazza would take up to five Advil capsules before and during games.
“(That) was kind of embarrassing, because there’s some linebackers on our team who probably have a little bit more serious injuries and probably needed those Advil packets,” he said.
For Mazza, the lasting image of WSU’s pandemic-impacted 2020 season came from the Cougars’ locker room on Dec. 12, when Rolovich informed players that a positive COVID-19 test on Cal’s football team would force the teams to cancel their game.
“Everyone on the team just rallied around and we really wanted to scrimmage ourselves,” Mazza said. “Rolo was like, ‘Guys, we need to stay healthy,’ and everyone was like, ‘Rolo please, let us get out there. We need to play, we need to play.’ I felt that.”
Nothing like that happened, but a handful of WSU players retreated to Rogers Practice Field for an impromptu snowball fight. The Texan specialists, Mazza and Draguicevich, had other plans.
“Just got some kicks and punts in. Shoot, at that moment I knew Oscar was thinking about going to the NFL,” Mazza said. “… He was about to leave and it could’ve been mine, so we were kind of soaking it all in, like this is our last time in Martin Stadium potentially.”
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