Chris Petersen is probably joking when he says Cameron Van Winkle, the Washington Huskies’ sophomore kicker, plays a part in UW’s red-zone struggles.
Van Winkle has made 19 of his 22 field-goal attempts this season, and leads all Pac-12 Conference kickers in field goals-made percentage at 86.4.
His consistency makes him a valuable option in the red zone, where the Huskies have converted just 21 of their 41 chances into touchdowns. Van Winkle is 15 for 17 on field-goal tries in the red zone.
“You might have just hit on some of our red-zone problems — we don’t go for it enough because we feel confident with Cam,” Petersen said with a smile. “He’s done a great job.”
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Van Winkle, a Mount Si High School alumnus, began his UW career handling kickoff duties as a freshman in 2013. But a serious back injury forced him out of action before the season’s midway point, and the Huskies weren’t sure exactly how much he would be able to handle in 2014.
He has turned out to be one of the team’s most consistent players. His 19 made field goals already rank seventh most in UW single-season history, and he ranks seventh nationally in both field goals-made percentage and total field goals made.
His three misses this year came on a blocked 36-yard try at California; a miss from 40 yards in the wind and rain that plagued UW’s loss to Arizona State at Husky Stadium; and a miss from 43 yards that drilled the right upright at Arizona.
“Really, what’s helped me be so accurate this year so far is pretty much my holder, my snapper, my whole line just always blocking for me,” Van Winkle said. “We practice it every single day, and we’re a team that just executes. We know we have to go out there and score points. That’s what we’ve been doing.”
He’ll play in his first Apple Cup on Saturday at Washington State (7:30 p.m., FOX Sports 1). Two of the last three Apple Cups played in Pullman have been decided by a late field goal. In 2012, UW kicker Travis Coons missed a 35-yard try as time expired, sending the game into overtime. WSU eventually won thanks to a 27-yard boot by Andrew Furney.
In 2008, after both teams’ kickers made field goals in the first overtime, WSU kicker Nico Grasu made a 28-yarder in double overtime to lift the Cougars to a 16-13 victory.
“It is a dream to make the game-winning field goal,” Van Winkle said. “But anyone knows how it’s going to end up.”
His demeanor should help if he finds himself in a pressure situation late in Saturday’s game.
“He’s got a lot of leg talent and he’s very passionate about what he does,” Petersen said. “He seems to stay pretty in the moment and not let it get too big for him. I think that’s the biggest thing with kickers, specialists, those type of guys — the moment sometimes can get too big, but he hasn’t seem to have done that.”
After the Huskies practice on Thursday morning, they’ll head upstairs to the football facility for a Thanksgiving meal that, yes, will include turkey.
And the holiday provides the occasion for Petersen to count his blessings.
“Being here, being with these guys, being a part of this game. I really mean that,” Petersen said, asked what he’s thankful for this year. “We can put so much on this and I always say this — sometimes we make this thing life and death and we forget to slow down and appreciate. Coaches are as guilty as anyone, myself as guilty as anyone. So I think Thanksgiving comes at a good time to say hold on, let’s keep this in perspective and appreciate being a part of this thing.”