Oct. 14, 2004
Just four years ago, Kyle Basler was helping his Elma High School Eagles to the Class AA State Playoffs by doing a little bit of everything. Passing, running, receiving, tackling, and dabbling in his current craft, punting.
But the Ray Guy Award candidate (awarded annually to the nation's top punter) never would have imagined it would have been the latter bringing him national attention at the college level.
"I came to WSU with the option to play linebacker or punt. It wasn't set in stone," Basler said.
Basler did it all at Elma. He threw for over 2,000 yards as a sophomore quarterback and was an All-State selection at punter, and was a standout in basketball and baseball.
When it came time to take his athletic ability to the next level, however, what he could do with his right leg overshadowed all of his other skills.
"When I got to Washington State, they brought it up with me, the option to punt," Basler said. "When you come to college you want to play as soon as possible, so that is the avenue that I took and it hasn't turned out too bad."
To say the least. As a sophomore in 2003, Basler earned Pac-10 honorable mention honors after averaging 43.5 yards per punt, dropping 30 inside 20. He was named defensive most valuable player of the Holiday Bowl after pinning Texas inside its own five-yard line four times.
"He is the best I've ever been around. I've never had a punter named the most valuable defensive player in a bowl game like he was (2003 Holiday Bowl against Texas), that's for sure," WSU Head Coach Bill Doba said.
This season, Basler is performing at an All-American level and has become one of those rare punters who can change the outcomes of games.
In the opener at New Mexico, the McCleary, Wash., native earned Pac-10 special teams Player of the Week honors after punting seven times for a 47-yard average and a long of 59. Basler pinned the Lobos inside their 20 twice.
Three weeks later at Arizona, Basler earned the same recognition after punting seven times for a school record 53.4 yards, dropping two inside the 20. Despite those numbers, it was his sixth punt in Tucson that stole the show.
With WSU clinging to a 14-13 lead with just over seven minutes remaining, Basler launched a ball that Cougar fans will talk about for years to come. Officially, the punt will go down as an 87-yarder, a Washington State record and the second-longest in Pac-10 history.
"As soon as I hit, I knew it was pretty good," Basler said. "I knew it was going to go pretty far, but I didn't expect it to go 87 yards. I'm not complaining though."
Unofficially, Basler let it fly from the five-yard line. The ball hit the ground at Arizona's 18, forcing Wildcat punt returner Ryan Eidson out of his back pedal and into a full-tilt sprint. It then rolled five yards deep into the end zone, giving the jet-lagged pigskin a total travel distance of 100 yards.
Basler has more than just a big leg. He has been lauded for his touch as much as his power. This season, despite averaging over 46.1 yards per punt (fourth nationally), he has dropped seven inside the 20-yard line. Just 10 of his 25 attempts have been returned.
"Pooch punting is something you have to practice to be good at," Basler said. "It takes a special touch.
"There is so much to becoming a punter. With a kicker, the ball is already sitting there. As a punter, you have to drop it, and that is 90 percent of being a punter. There are a lot of things that people don't think about."
With his play through four games in 2004, Basler is giving people plenty to think about.