Kicker, punter get little notice, but they've been solid

Field-goal kickers and punters are much like referees in one respect. You notice them most when they flub up.

Sophomores Trevor Romaine and Keith Kostol have had their embarrassing moments this season, but they’ve been much more plus than bust for Oregon State, which plays host to California at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Reser Stadium.

Both have earned Pac-12 special teams player of the week honors — Kostol for his performance in a Sept. 22 victory over UCLA, Romaine for his work in last Saturday’s 27-23 loss at Stanford.

by: COURTESY OF OSU - Keith KostolRomaine leads the Pac-12 in field-goal percentage (.867) and is on a roll, going 3 for 3 in the 15th-ranked Beavers’ last two games — a win over Arizona State and a loss at Stanford.

Kostol ranks ninth in the league in punting average at 42 yards and has seven of 50-plus, including a 67-yarder against the Cardinal. Not bad for a sophomore walk-on punting in his first college season.

“I’m proud of both of them,” OSU coach Mike Riley says. “They’ve done a really good job for us.”

Romaine, a 6-foot, 200-pound native of Corona, Calif., has been much improved over a year ago, when he was thrown to the wolves as a true freshman. He was 12 for 14 on kicks from inside 40 yards but 3 for 8 on attempts beyond it, with a long of 46 yards against Cal.

This year, Romaine is 8 for 9 inside 40 and 5 for 6 from beyond the mark, including four beyond 40 in the past two games. His only misses have been from 40 against Wisconsin and from 35 against Arizona. Since then, he has drilled nine in a row.

“I’ve finally gotten comfortable back there just kicking through the ball,” Romaine says. “Since I had those two misses, I’ve gone back to the basics. It’s like a pitcher in baseball. You don’t want to aim the pitch.”

Romaine is the best kickoff man for the Beavers since Jose Cortez in 1997 and ‘98 — and better than two greats since then, Groza Award winner Alexis Serna and Kirk Yliniemi. As a freshman, Romaine put 11 of 40 kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks. This season, with the kickoff moved up five yards to the 40, he has 29 touchbacks in 50 kickoffs.

“That’s 58 percent,” he says. “I’d like to get it up there between 80 and 85 percent.”

Still, veteran teams coach Bruce Read says, “That’s pretty good stuff. He has a powerful leg.”

Read gives Romaine credit for his regimen prior to the 2012 campaign.

“Trevor worked hard in the offseason, a complete flip from a year ago,” Read says. “He’d gone to a high school where they blew everybody out. He kicked off seven or eight times a game and kicked PATs and that’s all he had to do.

“In the Pac-12, every kick counts. It was a huge transition from being able to meander his way through it to really becoming a good kicker. He could have used a redshirt year, but we threw him right into the fire. He was good on shorter kicks, but on field goals over 40 yards, he wasn’t very accurate.”

Romaine spent much of the offseason working on strength and fitness, and it has paid off.

“His whole attitude and work ethic and understanding of what he’s into is completely different now,” Read says. “When he came, he thought he could roll in here and it would all come easy. Last year, I had to tell him to do everything at practice. This year, he has taken on that responsibility himself.”

Gradually, Romaine has gained the confidence of Riley, who is more apt to turn to his kicker than he was to start the season. Romaine knocked home a 45-yarder — with 10 yards to spare — as time expired in the first half to draw the Beavers even with ASU at 19-19.

Romaine, who hit a 52-yarder as a prep senior, has enough leg to connect from much farther.

“I made one from 64 in pregame at Washington,” he says. “But I have complete faith in Coach Riley knowing when we should or shouldn’t go for it. If they need me to make 50-plus, I’ll do my best to do it.”

It’s an upset that Kostol is playing college football. He was a soccer player at Tigard High until his junior year, when he handled place-kicking duties for the football team. As a senior, he was both kicker and punter for the Tigers and a standout in track and field, placing fourth in the high jump at the state meet.

Kostol decided he was going to attend Oregon State to study engineering.

“I didn’t even know I was going to play until after I signed up for housing,” he says. “I figured I might as well try to get on the football team.”

He sent game video to Read, who took on the 6-3, 190-pound Kostol as an invited walk-on in 2010.

“Keith was tall and had some qualities I thought might pan out,” Read says. “He hadn’t played football for a long time, and it seemed like he had upside. He didn’t have a lot of bad habits.”

Kostol redshirted but traveled with the Beavers during the 2010 season, then backed up Johnny Hekker — now a rookie with the St. Louis Rams — last season. During August camp, he beat out the punter on scholarship, transfer Tim McMullen.

“Keith’s an iron man,” Read says. “This summer he was here as much as anybody on our team working out — punting, running, lifting. He grinded his way to the starting position.”

After an auspicious debut — he let a snap slip through his hands and was tackled in the opener against Wisconsin — Kostol has been solid and at times outstanding. He has done a beautiful job with hang time. Opponents have returned only 11 punts for 76 yards all season.

“He tends to punt the ball higher than farther,” Read says. “That helps with the punt formation (shield) we’re using this year.”

Kostol isn’t complaining.

“I’m glad the coaches saw something in me,” he says. “I was almost cut from the team a couple of times. Now, here I am, starting. It’s great.”

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Twitter: @kerryeggers

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