Boise State specialists take pride in being "weird"
Kickers are weird. Same for punters. And long snappers, too.
They know it, they embrace it, and that’s what makes them special. Well, specialists, technically.
Look around at a Boise State football practice, and there are five guys in their own world. On occasion, they are called upon to kick in team drills, or help out as decoys with blocking shields, or asked to strip footballs from running backs during ball security drills.
Mostly, they’re on their own and having as much fun as anyone, playing games they created or cracking jokes.
“Because we’re off on our own all the time, we kind of just grow insane, I guess. But specialists are definitely a weird bunch, and I fit right in,” senior punter Sean Wale said.
Wale, senior kicker Tyler Rausa, junior long snapper Matt Cota, freshman kicker/punter Joel Velazquez and freshman long snapper Nicholai Pitman make up the quintet of quirkiness on the Boise State football team.
They’ll sometimes get sideways looks after a tough drill when say, a sweaty and winded defensive lineman sees the group sharing laughs while watching practice. But it’s part of the territory, because kickers’ legs are like pitchers’ arms. Overuse can be detrimental.
“Every day is different. I go in like, ‘What are we going to talk about today?’ ” Wale said. “We still have to go out and do our jobs, though. When it’s time to be serious and do our jobs, that’s what we have to do, but we do have a lot of downtime.
“As specialists, we don’t need to be fired up and ready to run through a wall. We need to have level heads, so I think the joking, all that, is fun, but there’s also a purpose behind it, too.”
There were times in the past when some of the specialists, led by former long snapper Kevin Keane, would go fishing in the nearby Boise River in the hour or so before practices.
“That didn’t go over too well,” Cota said. “We take a little pride in being different, but to me, that’s what this program is about: being your own person, but being the best you can be.
Cota estimates he snaps about 20 times in daily punt drills and a few more than that in field goal and extra point work. At practice, the specialists also get instant feedback, as their kicks are filmed on iPads, so they can take a look at them during dead periods.
They may not always remember every kick, but the camaraderie is what remains.
They play games, such as trying to catch snaps from Cota with your hands starting behind your back, or getting closer and closer to the snaps. They have punt, snap and kick competitions (using the opposite foot for strength conditioning), and try to toss footballs and make them stick on the Albertsons Stadium goalposts. Former kicker Dan Goodale said he was a better snapper than punter by the time his career was done.
The players will compete to see if they can knock out the ball from a running back’s hands in drills, or help them in blocking drills.
“If Jeremy (McNichols) has a big game, it’s probably because of us,” Rausa said.
Conversations of all sorts are fair game, and they flow without much interruption.
“Most of the conversations are football-related. We’ll talk about certain players having a good week, watch them a bit, mentally prepare ourselves for the game,” Cota said. “Every once in a while, it does get off track.”
When it gets around 5, we get pretty hungry. We’ll talk about if we got a Whataburger or an In-N-Out, where would it go, something like that.
Matt Cota, Boise State long snapper
It’s a group on its own island, but without one another, they might feel a little out of place.
“You’ve got Rausa’s crazy hair, I did the beard thing, Sean’s the goofiest one,” Goodale said. “If you don’t accept it, you’re going to be miserable.”
The specialists know their place, and they gladly flash a little self-deprecating humor. Look no further than their Twitter account (@Specialists_BSU). Among the highlights is a photo of the group in a hot tub, joking that it’s a position meeting, or a photo of a single-engine propeller plane as their own charter flight to a road game.
“We took away their fishing poles, so they’re out at practice the entire time,” head coach Bryan Harsin said with a smile. “Those guys are doing things behind the scenes, Sean Wale’s looking at the other punter, Rausa’s looking at the other kickers. They do add value to what we’re doing.”
All those light-hearted moments, the instant coaching of one another, it lends itself to a tight bond. And when a snap, hold and kick can be successful, or failure if something is a split-second off, there’s a reason the specialists are one in the same.
“The more you get to know them, the more you trust them. You let each other in and are more honest,” Goodale said. “You might get to know each other a little too much, but it’s a really important part of what we do.”
Dave Southorn: 208-377-6420, @IDS_BroncoBeat
No. 19 Boise State at New Mexico
When: 7 p.m. MT Friday
Where: University Stadium (39,224, FieldTurf); Albuquerque, N.M.
TV: CBS Sports Network (Carter Blackburn, Aaron Taylor, Jenny Dell)
Radio: KBOI (670 AM)/ KTIK (93.1 FM); Bob Behler, Pete Cavender
Records: Boise State 4-0 (1-0 Mountain West); New Mexico 2-2 (1-0)
Series: Boise State leads 6-1 (UNM won last meeting 31-24 in Boise, 2015)
Coaches: Boise State, Bryan Harsin (25-6, third year; 32-11, fourth year overall); New Mexico, Bob Davie (20-34, fifth year; 55-59, 10th year overall)
Vegas line: Boise State by 17 1/2
Kickoff weather: Mid 60s and clear, slight winds