Kiel Rasp makes most of punting opportunity
Kiel Rasp had given up on playing football for the Huskies after three seasons of not seeing playing time, but injuries to other players and fortune have given him a chance. He is fifth in the Pac-10 with a 44.9 average, on pace to set a school season record.
Seattle Times staff reporter; Seattle Times staff reporter
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Even in the years when he was buried deep on the depth chart, the Washington Huskies have always been able to count on Kiel Rasp to lighten the mood.
"When you are out there tired at practice he is always kidding around and everything and he just has that ability to make you laugh at all times," said senior safety Nate Williams.
And after being suddenly thrust into duty after a season-ending injury to starting punter Will Mahan after the first game of the season, Rasp has proved equally dependable on the field.
In a season of maddening inconsistency for the Huskies, Rasp has surprisingly been one of UW's most reliable players, averaging 44.9 yards to rank fifth in a Pac-10 loaded with good punters, and 19th nationally.
"He's been unbelievable so far," said UW special-teams coach Johnny Nansen of Rasp, who is on track to break the school record for season punting average of 43.2 set by Sean Douglas in 2006.
Especially for a guy who was literally camping — spending a few days in the woods — when the Huskies began fall camp in August.
Rasp, a graduate of Nathan Hale, spent the 2007, 2008 and 2009 seasons with the Huskies, walking-on to the team after being named the 3A All-State punter his last two years in high school.
But after not seeing the field and thinking his chances to make an impact might have passed, he decided to stop playing football after last season. Rasp is currently off-limits to the media under the same rules that also keep freshmen unavailable, so it's left to others to explain what happened.
"He said it was such a commitment to be out there working so hard every day and then not being able to play," said Hoover Hopkins, Rasp's coach at Hale, mentioning that Rasp said he also wanted to spend more time on academics — he is listed as a biochemistry major. "So he started focusing on rugby. He joined the rugby club and he was doing that. He basically hung it up then."
When Rasp joined the team in the fall of 2007 — invited as a recruited walk-on by former assistant Chris Tormey — he had hoped to eventually win a scholarship. Hopkins said schools such as Boise State and Notre Dame also showed interested in having Rasp walk on — his only scholarship offer was from Western Washington, which no longer offers football — but that he had always had his heart set on UW.
Dreams of getting a scholarship, though, were dashed when Jared Ballman graduated after the 2008 season and Steve Sarkisian signed Mahan, instead.
"He figured the writing was on the wall," Hopkins said.
The problem wasn't leg strength. That's never been an issue for Rasp, listed at 6-foot-3, 215 pounds. Hopkins said Rasp's first punt at Hale went 80 yards and that "I thought for sure he would end up in the NFL." Rasp is also a good athlete, participating in track at Hale and having done the heptathlon during the indoor season at UW.
But at the Pac-10 level, punting is also about consistency and getting the kick off quickly. Nansen said that was where Rasp needed work, particularly on his drop — UW coaches want the entire sequence from snap to punt to occur in two seconds or less.
"He had to speed it up," Nansen said.
With Rasp gone, UW recruited another punter to walk-on and add depth behind Mahan for this fall — Sean Halligan of Puyallup. But Halligan suffered an injury the first couple days of camp, so the Huskies decided to see if Rasp was still interested in playing.
Rasp was camping at the time, but cut the trip short a day to return to the team.
When Mahan was hurt in a practice the week after the opener, Rasp suddenly had his chance.
It might have seemed daunting to some, and Nansen said it's obvious opponents have tried to come after Rasp. But he's handled every attempt cleanly and consistently.
Deep snapper Brendan Lopez says the same easygoing personality that endears Rasp to teammates in the locker room helped him when he finally got on the field.
"He's a relaxed guy who doesn't take things too seriously," Lopez said. "He doesn't put a lot of pressure on himself."
• QB Jake Locker took part in most of practice but sat out the team period at the end as a precautionary measure.
• Defensive coordinator Nick Holt said he expects true freshman Sione Potoa'e to start at defensive tackle to make up for the loss of Cameron Elisara to a shoulder stinger. Everrette Thompson, who had been starting at tackle, will move to end.
• Safety Will Shamburger suffered a concussion against Arizona and his status for this week is uncertain.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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