Choukair kicks into high gear for OSU
Jordan Choukair's goal is to be the best place-kicker in the Pac-12 this season.
Head coach Gary Andersen wants Nick Porebski to be a "game-changer."
Oregon State's specialists will play a major role in the success of the Beavers, who open the 2017 campaign Saturday at Colorado State.
Choukair (pronounced "Shoe-care"), a 6-1, 195-pound sophomore from Poway, California, got his feet wet while serving as OSU's field-goal kicker for the final four games of last season. Choukair attempted only one field goal during that span, making a 20-yard attempt in a 38-24 loss at UCLA. He also kicked off once against the Bruins.
After mulling offers from Arizona and San Diego State as a prep senior, Choukair waited until after the school year to make a decision.
"I didn't feel fully comfortable with either school," says Choukair, 20. "I was still talking to some other schools, including Oregon State."
Choukair ventured to Corvallis for a camp in early June of 2016, "and I fell in love with the campus, the community, the town, the coaching staff," he says. "I performed pretty well in the camp, and they offered me a scholarship. It wasn't too hard a decision. Oregon State was definitely the place for me."
But a back injury suffered just before training camp set him back. Choukair missed three weeks of practice, then slowly worked his way back to health.
With incumbent Garrett Owens struggling with his accuracy late in the season, Andersen decided to use Owens only on conversions and designated Choukair as the field-goal kicker. Choker traveled to Stanford and UCLA and was suited for home games against Arizona and Oregon but made only the appearance against the Bruins.
"Seemed like we either didn't get into (field-goal) range or wound up scoring a touchdown," Choukair says. "But getting onto the field and then kicking against UCLA got the jitters out and will help prepare me for this season. Having your first kick come in the Rose Bowl stadium — you can't beat that. It was a dream come true."
Choukair — whose career-best field goal in high school was from 50 yards — says he is fully healthy and in the right frame of mind for a big year.
"I'm feeling strong and ready to go," he says. "In practice at Bend, I was hitting from 55 and 60 yards out. I feel comfortable from 55 yards and, anything 50 and in, I feel very comfortable."
Andersen wound up in a situation last season unprecedented in his nearly three decades coaching collegiately, with three placekickers on scholarship — Owens, Choukair and Adley Rutschman, who kicked off last season but has given up the sport to concentrate on baseball.
"We had Garrett and then Adley, but I just felt like Jordan had earned (a scholarship), too," Andersen says. "We had one available, and he had the opportunity to get to other places, so we'd have lost him (if he hadn't been given a ride)."
To start the season, Choukair will kick extra points and field goals and someone — perhaps sophomore Zach Standish — will kick off.
"I want Jordan to focus on field goals, and I expect him to be a very good kicker this season," Andersen says. "His expectations are no different than mine — to be a weapon who walks into the game and makes a high percentage of kicks. And he can make them from distance. We have a good kicker on our hands."
Says Choukair: "I want to be the best kicker in the Pac-12, if not the nation. I want to make these coaches who helped get me here proud. When I run out onto that field, I want my coaches and teammates to trust me to do my job."
The 5-10, 200-pound Porebski is in his third season as Oregon State's punter. The senior from Melbourne, Australia, transferred from Snow, a junior college in Ephraim, Utah, and sat out the 2014 campaign.
As a sophomore in 2015, Porebski averaged 41.1 yards on 72 punts, ranking seventh in the Pac-12. He was fourth in the conference with a 38.5-yard net average.
As a junior last year, Porebski averaged 41.3 yards on 64 punts, ranking sixth in the Pac-12. He was fourth in the league with a 38.1-yard net average. That was good considering he sprained his ankle before the opener against Minnesota and didn't fully recover for more than a month.
This season, Porebski says, his goals are higher.
"I'd like to be in the 43 to 45-yard range (for average), with net in the 40s," he says. "I also want to be more consistent in (dropping punts) inside the 10-yard line. Those are high expectations, but that's the way it is when you want to be the best."
Porebski's backup is another Aussie, Alex Bland, who arrived late in training camp and is expected to redshirt. Both Porebski and Bland, a sophomore from Henley Beach, Australia, trained at Pro Kick Australia, a program that develops the country's punters and kickers. Many of them move on to college programs in the U.S.
"You train there for six to 12 months, then they send out video to colleges," Porebski says.
Porebski had a hand at recruiting his successor.
"I watched a lot of his video and helped evaluate it with the coaches, so I had a little part in it," he says. "(Pro Kick Australia officials) gave us a good recommendation."
Porebski, 25, is no longer the oldest player on the OSU team. Bland is 26.
"Blandie has a year on me," Porebski says with a chuckle. "But nobody calls a specialist an old man."
Porebski will have a big senior season, if Andersen's wishes are fulfilled.
"It's Nick's time to be a game-changer," the OSU coach says. "I want him to take the next step. For two years, he has been known as a good punter. This year, I expect people to say we have a great punting game. I want Nick to put other teams in uncomfortable situations."
Porebski also will hold for Choukair on place-kicks. The long snapper will be Connor Kelsey, a 6-foot, 225-pound junior from Carpinteria, California, who was the backup last year. Kelsey has been in the OSU program for three years, including a redshirt 2014 campaign.