Fair go, mate: All goes smoothly in Aussie’s debut

Washington State’s Nick Haberer, back center, watches a punt during Saturday’s nonconference game against Utah State.

PULLMAN — It was a well-executed but routine punt on the first series of the game, downed on the 14-yard line.

When Nick Haberer returned to the Washington State sideline, however, he received enthusiastic kudos not only from a plac-kicker and two long-snappers but also a receiver and an edge rusher. One of long-snappers gave him a congratulatory smack to the top of the helmet.

It might have looked odd if you didn’t know the back story. You see, Haberer was playing his first football game at any level.

“I think it was probably a (pregame) worry,” Cougars coach Nick Rolovich admitted Wednesday. “How is he going to handle the lights, the crowd — everything — of a first college football game? And I was very impressed.”

A true freshman from Australia, Haberer averaged 44 yards on his three punts this past Saturday in the Cougars’ 26-23 loss to Utah State, forcing the Aggies to begin possessions on the 14-, 16- and 22-yard lines.

“For a guy who was in his first football game, in our description of football, he was very composed, performed well, he enjoyed the moment,” Rolovich said.

“I haven’t met an Australian I don’t like — they’re wonderful people. But I pointed to him with the team. I said he was jumping around, excited to play, excited to be there.”

The Cougars (0-1, 0-0) play Portland State (0-1, 0-0) at 3 p.m. Saturday (Pac-12 Network) at WSU’s Gesa Field.

Haberer grew up playing rugby and the supra-American conception of football — soccer — but he also attended Prokick Australia, a punter and kicker school. He signed with the Cougars on full scholarship in December and enrolled the following month.

“He gets scared because he’s never played football,” Rolovich said during preseason workouts. “It would have been much harder if he didn’t get here in January.

“I think (special teams) coach (Kyle) Krantz and the other specialists have done an incredible job teaching him the game,” Rolovich said. “Learning what a safety is — that’s not a first-day conversation for someone who’s foreign to the game.

“I know there’s been multiple times where he’s in the office and they’re just watching a football game, just watching the flow, and he feels comfortable enough to ask questions there, as far as kicking and his skill set. I think we’ve been pleasantly surprised at how early he’s been able to do what they ask.”

Haberer also shined in his first high-pressure moment against the Aggies. With the Cougars leading 23-18 with three minutes left, he booted a 49-yard punt that was fair-caught at the 22. Utah State nonetheless drove 78 yards for the winning touchdown.

Rypien stops by

Former WSU quarterback Mark Rypien, of Spokane, who led the then-Washington Redskins to a Super Bowl win in 1992, delivered a speech to the Cougars after their morning practice.

Among other things, he implored linemen on both sides of the ball, for whom the Utah State game wasn’t their finest hour, to strive for excellence, Rolovich said.

“Like every Coug I’ve met that played here,” the second-year coach said, “it’s a very similar message. He’s still feeling part of it. He said ‘we’ a lot. It wasn’t ‘you guys.’ He talked in a collective sense, and I think that’s fairly common from the alumni I’ve gotten a chance to meet. He emphasized he’ll be here this weekend. He emphasized how much he enjoys being a Coug still. I think that’s wonderful for the young guys to hear.”

Grummert may be contacted at daleg@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2290.