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Originally published April 11, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified April 24, 2007 at 9:01 PM

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UW Football | Kicking for No. 1

Ryan Perkins sports an 8-inch scar on his right knee, courtesy of two surgeries to repair a devastating injury suffered a year ago. Jared Ballman's wounds run...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Ryan Perkins sports an 8-inch scar on his right knee, courtesy of two surgeries to repair a devastating injury suffered a year ago.

Jared Ballman's wounds run a lot deeper, even if they aren't as clearly visible.

But each found solace Monday in returning to the football field, competing for the job of replacing Sean Douglas as Washington Huskies punter.

On paper, it's a heady task. Douglas left UW as the school's all-time leader in career average (42.8) and season average (43.2 in 2006).

But it's kid stuff opposed to what they've been through the past 12 months, though Perkins readily admits his situation nowhere approaches the severity of Ballman's.

"I couldn't even imagine what that's like," says Perkins of Ballman, who was the driver in a car accident in January that resulted in the death of his father and serious injuries to a younger brother. "He's got to be a really tough guy."

Ballman is a San Diego native who signed with UW in December after spending the past two years at Grossmont (Calif.) College.

Despite the tragedy, he never wavered on coming to UW (he wasn't seriously injured in the accident), and spent his first day with the team Monday. And while he has asked not to be interviewed about the accident, he says becoming a Husky "definitely keeps my mind off a lot of things. It keeps me busy."

The 5-foot-11, 175-pounder also is competing to replace Michael Braunstein as UW's kicker, though the Huskies recruited him primarily to punt (highly-regarded California high schooler Eric Folk will arrive in August to contend for kicking duties as well).

But Ballman says confidently, "I think I can win both spots."

Perkins says the same, though for now, he's concentrating on punting — and doing so with his left foot rather than his more accustomed right, putting to use an ability to kick with both feet that he honed while playing soccer at North Thurston High School.

"I'm looking forward to punting against Syracuse [on Aug. 31]," Perkins said.

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Perkins, a junior with three years of eligibility remaining, signed with UW in 2005, one of the last players to commit to former coach Keith Gilbertson though he signed after Tyrone Willingham became coach.

After redshirting in 2005, he was competing for both punting and kicking jobs last spring when Perkins tore every ligament in his right knee, hammered by teammate Caesar Rayford while attempting a punt midway through the Spring Game.

In a quirk of fate that could only happen in a spring game, Perkins and Douglas had just switched teams several plays before.

Perkins says Rayford "is the last guy I'd blame" for what happened, hinting protection errors were more at fault.

The result, however, was that "my knee was torn to pieces," Perkins said. "The doctors said if I played any other position, I'd never play football again."

An initial surgery to repair the knee didn't completely take, however, so another one was called for in October. The 6-foot, 185-pound Perkins said he wondered if he'd ever fully recover.

This time, cadaver ligaments were used to replace the ligaments in his knee.

This recovery is going better, though Perkins is now punting exclusively with his left foot. He learned to kick well with both feet while playing goalie in high school though he generally punted with his right leg.

Interestingly, he had talked with coaches a few days before his injury about punting with his left leg and kicking with his right foot, feeling that doing both with the same leg was resulting in some fatigue.

So for the rest of his career, he plans to punt mainly with his left leg and kick with his right.

For now, he can only punt as the right leg continues to recover (he said he is now also battling some arthritis), and because he can't yet put full pressure on his right leg, cannot use that leg to plant.

"I'm at about 60 percent," he said. Still, Perkins was out there Monday getting decent lift and distance on his punts with nothing more than the strength of one leg behind the kicks, showing the coaches he intends to come back.

He hopes to get full clearance in June and compete for both the punting and kicking jobs when fall camp begins in August.

Notes

• The Huskies again practiced without full pads Tuesday, per NCAA rules. They are expected to be in full pads Thursday.

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com. Read his blogs on Washington football and basketball at www.seattletimes.com/huskies.

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