LOS ANGELES — Nate Williams couldn’t look.
The circumstances were so eerily familiar that superstition kicked in, and so the University of Washington’s senior safety grabbed the hands of two teammates and stared at the ground — just like he had done last September.
For Mason Foster, a fellow senior and team captain, the reaction was the same. The linebacker stood a few feet from Williams, refusing to face the field.
It’s not that he didn’t have faith in Huskies kicker Erik Folk, who was lining up for the game-winning field goal in Saturday’s game at USC, but Foster just couldn’t bring himself to take so much as a glimpse as Folk approached the ball, kicked it and lifted the Huskies to an upset of the Trojans for the second year in a row.
“It’s just me,” Foster explained afterward. “I have faith in my teammates, but I just couldn’t watch it. Deep down inside, I knew he was going to make it.”
The truth is, after the way this season has gone, there is no reason to think Folk isn’t going to make it. Whenever the junior lines up for a field goal, there’s so little drama that fans might as well take their restroom break. He hasn’t missed a field goal all season, making all seven of his tries.
Watch Folk kick a field goal? There might be a bigger payoff tuning into the Pro Bowlers Association tour and waiting for a gutter ball.
“He’s got ice in his veins,” head coach Steve Sarkisian said after Folk’s 32-yard field goal beat USC on Saturday night. “He’s unbelievable.”
Folk’s kicks this season include a career-long 54-yarder in the opener at BYU and four field goals in Saturday’s game, the biggest of which was the game-winner.
After the USC game, the junior with the nerves of ice was as relaxed as ever.
“I could have hit it better, but I felt like I hit it well,” said Folk, who shrugged off back-to-back timeouts from Trojans coach Lane Kiffin before delivering the game-winner with no time left on the clock in a 32-31 victory. “I could have hit it better, but it was good enough to go through.”
Folk’s success this season has as much to do with confidence in his body as it has technique or natural ability.
As a sophomore in 2009, Folk had a solid year while making 18 of 21 field goals but never felt quite right following offseason surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip. A year later, the hip is no longer a concern, and Folk’s confidence is at an all-time high.
“I’m feeling a lot better,” he said Saturday night. “My mindset’s a lot better from the beginning of the season last year to now. I’m a lot more confident in my swing and know that if I go out there and kick it, I’ll make it.”
Folk is one of only eight kickers in the nation who have been perfect on seven or more field goals this season.
And maybe one of these days, his teammates will be able to watch.
“Erik’s really good — money the whole year,” Williams said. “He’ll be a really good kicker, and whenever we call on him, we know he will make it.”
Foster could sum up the Huskies’ kicker even more succinctly after Saturday night’s win.
“Folk,” he said, “is clutch.”