Kicker Josh Lider finds a home at WVU
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Kicker Josh Lider received an unexpected text message nearly one month after Western Washington’s victory over Colorado Mines in the Dixie Rotary Bowl last season.
The message indicated that a mandatory meeting was being held.
“We never got texts like that, so we knew it was serious,” Lider said.
At the meeting, the players on the Division II school’s football team learned their program would be cut because of a lack of funds.
“It was a dagger to the heart,” Lider said. “As a Division II school, especially after going 2-8 the year before, there was definitely some talk, but they were mostly jokes.”
Lider said one of his teammates joked after the bowl victory that “we saved the program.”
Days later, it was gone.
With the reality that he would not play football at Western Washington again, Lider — a second-team selection in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference — didn’t realize how much football meant to him.
“I didn’t want to give it up,” said the Bellevue, Wash., native.
Lider decided to send film and see if there was any interest. He didn’t get much response from major Division I schools.
“In January, West Virginia was nowhere near my hopes,” he said.
When it looked like he would have to pick between Colorado State, Montana and Portland State, WVU coach Bill Stewart called and offered Lider, who made 10 of 15 field goals and 33 of 37 extra points in his junior year at Western Washington.
When given the opportunity to play for what Lider called a “very powerful Division I program,” he said he couldn’t pass up the chance.
“I didn’t want to look back when I’m 35 and go, ‘Why didn’t I pick a big program when I had the shot?’ ” said Lider, who went further east than any of his former teammates who transferred.
Lider said he’s still trying to adjust to Division I football. He said the biggest difference between West Virginia and Western Washington is the amount of technology for watching film and the size of the staff.
“I was shocked when I kicked the ball, and, all of a sudden, the ball came back at me,” Lider said, laughing. “I was like ‘Wait, I don’t have to run after this?’ ”
Lider was immediately put into the competition for the starting kicker position, vacated by current Indianapolis Colts rookie Pat McAfee. Lider is also vying for the open punting and kickoff jobs.
Tyler Bitancurt, a redshirt freshman, is battling Lider for the kicker position. Stewart said punter Scott Kozlowski has a slight lead on Lider and fellow punter Greg Pugnetti for that position, and kickoffs are still up in the air between Bitancurt, Kozlowski and Lider.
Stewart, who isn’t ready to pick a starter for any of those positions, said Bitancurt has a stronger leg, but Lider is more accurate. Stewart also likes Lider’s attitude.
“The other day in practice, I asked Josh how far one of his kicks was,” Stewart said, adding it was a 46-yarder. “He said, ‘I don’t know, I don’t care.’ I like that. That’s the kind of mentality I want.”