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Pressure of position weighs on kickers.

Byline: Bob Clark The Register-Guard

A kicker doesn't have to be perfect, though Drew Dunning might wonder.

The Washington State senior has twice, in four weeks, been named special teams player of the week for the Pac-10. He leads the nation with 13 field goals in 14 attempts entering Saturday's game against Oregon.

And the one miss? That was against Notre Dame, in overtime. Dunning arrived home that night to find the door of his apartment kicked in.

`There were scratches and profanity written all over my door and my apartment,' Dunning told the Spokane Spokesman-Review.

A sign on campus read, `Thanks Dunning, way to miss.'

Nice. Real nice.

Bill Doba, the WSU coach, suggested whomever took out their frustration over the loss on his kicker `had too much to drink. Or they bet too much money.'

Or both?

`That's an ignorant fan who jumps on a player like that,' Oregon kicker Jared Siegel said. `There were a lot of plays in that (Notre Dame) game that affected the outcome. Drew is having a great year.'

Siegel said he hasn't received that kind of treatment from Oregon fans, though there's the occasional `intoxicated fan voicing their opinion. For the most part, fans in Eugene are supportive.'

It's Siegel who's difficult to please. He's 4-of-6 on field goals this season, with a miss from 41 yards in the opener and the blocked attempt against Michigan. When he went wide right against the Bulldogs, there was reason to wonder if an ankle injury that limited his kicking in the week preceding the game might have been a contributing factor.

`An injury like that kind of takes you out of your rhythm.' Siegel said. `I'm hitting the ball well now, so that's in the past. Other than the mishits (on kickoffs), I feel real good.'

But, oh, did he feel bad about those two kickoffs against Michigan that went out of bounds. He came to the sidelines after the second and told UO coach Mike Bellotti he was going to vomit.

`He was kidding a little bit, but he was repulsed by it,' Bellotti said. `He is such a perfectionist.'

Siegel was still kicking himself at midweek over those kickoffs that left Michigan possessions to start at the 35-yard line, though he had toned down from his post-game analysis, which was `when I perform like that, it's somewhat disgusting.'

Whoa, there; stuff happens.

`It was upsetting,' Siegel said as he reflected on it. `I'm better than that, and my teammates deserve more from me than that.'

So given one more chance at a kickoff after Oregon scored what proved to be the winning touchdown against Michigan, Siegel delivered. The Ducks had been penalized 15 yards for excessive celebrating, so Siegel's kickoff came from the 20-yard line.

The Michigan return man caught the football at his 3-yard line.

`He kicked the ball 77 yards,' Bellotti said in some amazement. `With good hang time.'

Said Siegel: `I hadn't been helping the team out at all on my kickoffs and momentum-wise, we needed a big kick. I got it good and got the rotation I needed, and it got caught up in the wind.'

Not much Siegel does should be a shock any more. In becoming a finalist for the Groza Award as the nation's top kicker last season, Siegel made 20-of-24 field-goal attempts with three of them beyond 50 yards, the longest a school-record 59.

Against Michigan, the Ducks showed enough confidence in his athletic ability to hand him the football on a fake field goal, though he came up a couple of yards short of the end zone.

`He came off and said, `The Michigan guys hit a little harder than Rio Americano.' ' Bellotti said, the reference being to a high school Siegel played against the last time he carried the football, as a prep running back. `He's a great football player first and a kicker second. He's a tremendous student of the game, and sometimes is too technical.'

Siegel is that rarest of player who coaches worry practices too much. Seriously.

`I have the mentality that if I'm not exactly where I need to be, I need to improve it,' Siegel said of his work ethic.

But kick too much? No, he said. `It's similar to pitching,' Siegel said. `There are only so many kicks that your leg can handle in a week. It's important that I don't get too fatigued during the week.'

And kicking figures to be a factor in Saturday's matchup. There probably isn't a lot to separate the Ducks and the Cougars, and that goes right down to the kickers, arguably the league's best duo.

`In any close game, special teams plays a key role,' Siegel said `So any time there's (an opposing) place-kicker who is consistent, it makes your kicks even more important 'cause you can't afford to miss.'

Right. Dunning has stories to tell when that happens.
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Title Annotation:WSU's Dunning has taken his share of heat, while UO's Siegel is his own worst critic; Sports
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Sep 25, 2003
Words:820
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