Cale Piland’s ears were the first things to notice.
Piland was the football coach at Evergreen High School, and it wasn’t his eyes that provided the first clue that Bobby Cowan was different — and special.
“The sound was different when you were around him kicking the football,” said Piland, now the coach at Union High School. “When he would punt, we would be warming up, and the other team would look around to see what that sound was.
“It sounded like the ball was going to explode.”
Cowan, a 2008 graduate of Evergreen, has since become one of the premier punters in college football. The University of Idaho junior was selected last week as a first-team All-American by the Football Writers Association of America.
Not that there was any grand ceremony announcing the award.
“I got a text from a friend of mine, and then my dad called,” Cowan said. “I was surprised, actually. I had punted well, but I was surprised.”
Cowan averaged 46.4 yards per kick this year, second in the nation behind the 47.0 mark by Florida State’s Shawn Powell. He booted 32 punts of 50 yards or longer among his 88 attempts, and had 17 kicks pin the opponent inside the 20-yard line.
Not bad for a guy who didn’t know if he wanted to be a punter or a quarterback coming out of high school. After throwing for 2,000 yards and 20 touchdowns at Evergreen, Cowan considered going to a lower-division program such as Central Washington or Carroll College to play quarterback.
Instead, he decided to kick at the Division I-A level, walking on his first two years at Idaho before earning a scholarship.
“I consider myself a football player; no doubt about it,” said Cowan, who is 6-foot-5, 232 pounds and is still listed as a quarterback on the Idaho website, although he doesn’t work out at the position. “In high school, I played multiple positions — wide receiver, quarterback, middle linebacker — and I punted and kicked.”
Being accepted as a football player sometimes can be difficult for a punter, especially among teammates who ply their trade in the trenches.
“You know, I think they do accept me,” Cowan said of his teammates. “I think it’s based on how hard you work, like in the weight room. I work hard to show that I’m a football player and not just a punter.”
Not that there’s anything wrong with being just a punter.
At least if you do it as well as Cowan.
“Obviously, he’s got a real special talent,” Piland said. “I can imagine he will get a chance to earn some money kicking a football someday.”