Sept. 8, 2003
Drew Dunning began his Washington State football career as a walk-on. He may just end it as the program's all-time leading scorer.
As is the case with any walk-on football player, Dunning wasn't handed anything when he graduated from Issaquah's Liberty High School in 1999 and joined the Cougars. Dunning watched WSU's 1999 campaign from the sidelines, sitting out as a redshirt and a non-scholarship afterthought.
"I came in knowing that I wasn't going to play right away," Dunning said. "Rian Lindell (current Buffalo Bill kicker) was here at the time and I was just excited for the opportunity to be the starter somewhere down the line."
The 2000 season was another test of will for the second-generation Coug. He was overlooked in favor of not just one, but two other kickers on the roster and was virtually a lock to go through a second year on the Palouse without seeing the field.
"I was a freshman and the two other kickers I was competing against were fifth-year seniors. It was the difference of being in the program for four or five years against somebody who is coming in as a freshman," Dunning said.
Dunning persevered and a heartbreaking stretch of the season for Washington State spelled opportunity for the 1999 Seattle Times Athlete of the Year.
After beginning the season 3-2 and giving the Crimson faithful hope for a bowl game, WSU suffered one of its most painful four-game stretches in program history. The Cougars lost in overtime three times in four weeks, and the kicking game was the scapegoat for the final setback, a 27-24 home defeat at the hands of Oregon.
The search was on for a new leg, and with WSU out of bowl contention, Dunning received a mini-tryout during the final two contests in 2000. Against USC and Washington, he went 1-2 on field goals and connected on three extra points in as many attempts.
That wouldn't be enough to secure the job, however. Once again, Dunning would have to prove himself during fall camp. He did just that, missing only one field goal in three scrimmages and leaving the coaching staff no choice but to go with the determined former high school soccer standout.
"Going into that camp, the job was still open," Dunning explained. "But I had a good spring and the confidence was high. I wanted to maintain that. Aaron Price (Cougar assistant coach 2001-2002) joined the coaching staff prior to that season, and I knew him because he recruited me at Idaho State. Working with him and having that comfort level really put me over the edge."
The 2001 season was magic for Dunning and the Cougars. Picked to finish last in the conference, WSU stormed to a 10-2 overall record and defeated Purdue in the Sun Bowl. Dunning came out of nowhere to hit 18 of 22 field goals, including a perfect 16 of 16 from inside the 40-yard line. He was named first team All-Pac-10 and was one of 20 semi-finalists for the Lou Groza Award.
"Being named first team All-Pac-10 basically validates you as a starter and as the guy that will be there until you graduate. As a kicker, you are always fighting against, 'Do people believe in me or do they not believe in me,'" Dunning said. "After an honor like that, the people's confidence in you is high and they put you in there and don't even have to think about it."
Dunning followed his breakout year with a school-record 113 points in 2002 and was clutch when it mattered most. He drilled a 35-yard attempt with 1:50 remaining against USC to force overtime, then put the game away with another 35-yarder on WSU's first possession. Against Washington, he did everything he could in the controversial loss, keeping the Cougs alive with four field goals.
"I try to calm myself before a big kick and I really recognize and try to focus on the distance the kick has to be made from. I try to tell myself, 'I have done this all week, so why not do it right now,'" Dunning said. "I'm always very anxious to get out there, but once I do, I just try and calm myself down and I'm fine."
Heading into his final campaign, Dunning stands just 108 points shy of WSU legend Jason Hanson's career scoring mark of 328 points. He is only 28 points out of the second slot, currently held by running back Steve Broussard.
"I can't lie and say I haven't thought about it," Dunning said of the record. "But once you start putting personal goals ahead of winning as a kicker, you put more pressure on yourself. I have to think of it as I'm going out there to get these three points to help my team. I don't need the added pressure of trying to etch my name in the record books."
If Dunning does reach 108 points in 2003, he may just owe some of the credit to the guy he will be bumping off the top spot on WSU's career scoring list.
"I kicked with Jason Hanson in July," Dunning said. "We match up very evenly in field goals. The difference is kickoffs. He had distance on me, but our accuracy was every bit the same."
Dunning listed Hanson as one of the kickers that he has looked up to during his development as a kicker. Hanson may just be looking up at Dunning on the career scoring list at the end of this season.