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Originally published Friday, August 15, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Huskies kicker Ryan Perkins returns from injury

Washington Huskies kicker Ryan Perkins is battling back from a right-knee injury suffered in the 2006 spring game and is trying to reclaim his placekicking spot. Perkins faces competition from redshirt freshman Erik Folk and senior Jared Ballman, who is assured of being the team's punter.

Seattle Times staff reporter

The answers from Washington kicker Ryan Perkins to a couple of questions about his troublesome right knee include varying versions of "I'm trying not to think about it."

If only it were that easy.

Simply walking to practice reminds Perkins of the obstacles he will face.

"It cracks and moves around and does all kinds of weird stuff that I don't even feel in my left knee," he said.

The funkiness is the result of a devastating injury Perkins suffered in the 2006 spring game, when he was run into inadvertently by teammate Caesar Rayford while punting.

He tore every ligament in the knee, and two surgeries were necessary to get it in a semblance of working order. But it will never be the same, and Perkins is now beginning to suffer from arthritis.

"It's just a project that keeps me on my toes all the time," he said. "Every day it's a constant, something coming up with the knee."

The North Thurston High grad persevered last year, however, to win UW's placekicking job as a sophomore, making 15 of 20 field goals and 45 of 46 extra points.

Though he said in the spring that the knee might cause him to have to end his career early, he said this week that "I think I've got it under control right now."

Still, the specter that it could flare up is among the things UW coaches will have to take into consideration as they decide on jobs for this season. New special-teams coach Brian White says the kicking job is up for grabs among Perkins, redshirt freshman Erik Folk and senior Jared Ballman, who is assured of being the team's punter.

"They will be very spirited competitions," White said of the kickoff and field-goal positions.

Folk was considered by some as the favorite heading into last season, having been regarded as one of the top kickers on the West Coast in 2006 at Notre Dame High in Woodland Hills, Calif. But he showed up to camp last year with an aching back — officially, a stress fracture in a vertebra — and was never able to really compete.

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But Folk says he's 100 percent now, and observers say he may have the strongest leg of the three.

Ballman also says he wants the job, having held a goal of doing both major kicking jobs since his arrival in the spring of 2007. Coaches may prefer not to have one kicker handling everything — Ballman also kicked off last year — and Ballman admits his accuracy needs some work.

\Huskies coach Tyrone Willingham said earlier this week that the kicking competition was just now beginning to get serious and it could be another week or so before decisions are made.

Having battled so hard to get back on the field, however, Perkins has vowed not to let the job go without a stiff fight.

He said he stayed off the knee as much as he could during the summer to prepare for the rigors of camp and feels the leg has responded. He says he doesn't notice any difference in his range.

"He's been kicking the ball well," said White. "We'll see how long he can hold up, but he's doing a nice job. We just have to be smart. He knows his body better than anyone. He keeps us with a pretty good understanding of what is going on."

Said Perkins: "I'm excited to kick this season. I'm all about the competition."

Kickers vie for holding job

One possible special-teams change for UW under White could be having the kickers do the holding. Quarterback Carl Bonnell mostly handled that job the last few years.

Backup quaterback Ronnie Fouch is also in contention for the job this year, but White says he likes the idea of kickers learning to hold for each other, something they are working on in practice.

One advantage, White said, is that they can get more practice in that way by not having to wait for a quarterback to complete his drills.

"I just believe you need to cultivate your kickers because they spend the most time with each other," White said.

Perkins is not holding, but Ballman and Folk are.

"It's gone pretty smoothly," said Folk, who said he has never held in a game before. "I'd rather be kicking. But if that's what's best for the team is having me hold and someone else kick, then I'm all for it."

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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