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Northridge's Beck Has Leg Up on Competition

College football: Senior punter's booming kicks attract pro scouts and give Matadors breathing room.

September 09, 2000|VINCE KOWALICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Fourth and long is when Ethan Beck comes in for Cal State Northridge. Lately, it has happened too much for his liking.

Beck punted nine times last week against Air Force in a 55-6 loss at Colorado Springs, adding his towering spirals to an air show that included fighter planes and parachutists.

He averaged 48 yardsand booted a 61-yard beauty that rolled to a stop at the three-yard line. Showing poise under fire, Beck scrambled with a bad snap and got off a 42-yard kick.

But all Beck did, as he sees it, was boot the ball away.

"I never want to punt that many times again," Beck said. "I hope I don't have to punt at all this week."

Northridge (0-1) plays a nonconference game tonight at Southwest Texas State in San Marcos. Chances are, Beck will spend more time on the bench this week, as the Matadors tackle the Division I-AA Bobcats (1-0).

"If I'm going to be a punter, I want to be able to help the team," Beck said. "I don't want to just kick it away when we can't come back. I want to be able to kick it, and maybe the defense can come in and hold them, so we can come back."

It's a dirty job, but somebody has to be the punter. No kid in shoulder pads ever dreams of becoming one, and neither did Beck before coming to Northridge in 1997.

He'd booted a few for Bakersfield Highland High and was summoned to punt for the Matadors, but he didn't plan on making a career of it.

Now he's considering just that.

The Matadors might be nothing special this season, but their punter already is. Throughout the summer, professional scouts visited Northridge practices to get a glimpse of Beck, 6 feet 4 and 200 pounds, a preseason All-American who ranked third in the nation last season, averaging 43.4 yards.

Beck, who doubles as a receiver, has been kicking the last two weeks with two fingers wrapped in a splint, the result of a dislocation suffered while catching a pass in practice.

But the injury hasn't affected his right leg. Beck's punting continues to improve, and scouts continue to come.

"The New Orleans Saints were out here [Thursday], for no other reason than to see him," Coach Jeff Kearin said. "The Cincinnati Bengals were here [Wednesday]. And we've had Houston and San Diego."

Beck, a senior majoring in kinesiology, plans to pursue a career in coaching. A pro football career, he allows himself only to dream about.

"If I get in there, surely I'll do the best I can," he said. "I would love to make it in sports in any way. If it can get me there, then I'm going to do it."

It is no stretch that scouts would search schools like Northridge for punters. Bryan Wagner, who punted for Northridge from 1982-84, played for four NFL teams, including the San Diego Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX in 1995.

Still, Beck is bowled over by the attention.

"I always had a foot, but I liked scoring touchdowns in high school," Beck said. "That's what I liked doing. When I came here I was strictly a wide receiver. I was the second-string punter. The next year, I went out there and tried to punt and I guess it just went from there. I started booting the ball and some of my teammates went 'woo.' "

Beck's reputation as a Matador has risen like one of his punts. Before graduating, he stands to hold most career punting records for Northridge. Beck broke a 32-year-old record with an 82-yard punt against Weber State at North Campus Stadium. Beck had a 58-yard punt last season against Southern Methodist at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.

"When they told me he dislocated his finger, my heart skipped a beat," Kearin said. "That would be a terrible blow to our offense."

Yes, offense.

"I've always considered the punt a big offensive play," Kearin said. "Everyone thinks it's a failure when you punt, but it's an opportunity to push the team back as far as you can. You're not going to score every time. You have to win the field position."

Before becoming coach last season, Kearin was a Northridge assistant for four years. His duties including coaching special teams, which he continues to do.

Beck has honed his skills almost exclusively by working with Kearin.

"I've never gone to any camps or anything," Beck said. "I've just gone out there. I don't even know if I have good form or not. The scouts don't tell me anything."

Kearin sees a future for Beck. An opportunity, at least.

"Based on what I'm hearing from the scouts, a lot of them are going to work him out," Kearin said. "They don't draft a lot of those guys. Those guys kind of bounce around. But they'll find him. They have."

*

COLLEGE

FOOTBALL

MATCHUP

CS NORTHRIDGE

vs.

SW TEXAS STATE

Today at 5:05 p.m.

at San Marcos,

Texas

* Quarterback Marcus Brady tries to lead the Matadors to first nonconference road victory since 1996. Page 12

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