It's not too early to declare a champion from tonight's game between Boise State and Virginia (ESPN2 & ESPN App, 8 ET). His name is Kohl, and earlier this week, the tee-retrieving dog caught the attention of college football fans and another irresistible, four-legged celebrity, Pint, who has been doing the same job at UC Davis for five years.
— Boise State Football (@BroncoSportsFB) September 18, 2017
"I hear Boise state has a working tee dog too," said a message posted on Pint's personal Facebook page. Pint (named in honor of a pint of beer) even had his own jersey last year, with his name on the back and "K9" on the sleeve, but that was traded for a harness this season because, well, "He can't pee with it on," said his owner and trainer, Dr. Danika Bannasch, "so at halftime they had to take it off."
While Pint has his own Facebook page, Kohl has a girlfriend. One thing they both have in common? They put in the least amount of practice for their respective teams -- and never miss.
"I've never seen him fumble a tee," UC Davis associate athletic director Josh Flushman said of Pint. Kohl also retrieves bats for the local baseball team, the Boise Hawks.
Pint is a Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever. He's a master hunter (that's a real title for a dog, not just a compliment). Kohl is an American field Labrador who was bred to hunt and be a bird dog.
Bannasch, a geneticist at the prestigious UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, covers Pint's eyes during every kickoff so he doesn't watch the football -- just in case.
"If he had his way, he would go after the football because it looks an awful lot like a duck," she said. "When we went to our first practice and he saw the guys throwing the football, he literally thought it was a duck. He was like, 'this is heaven.' I'm like, 'No, you need to focus on the ground and look for the tee.'"
Last season, that was easier said than done at one point. When Matt Blair handled kickoffs, he liked to use a green tee, but dogs can't see green and Pint struggled to see it against the green grass. Bannasch had to use her whistle to control his movements -- which works in a real field during a hunt test -- about three times to help guide him.
"Matt said 'It's OK, I'll use black,'" she said. "So we solved that problem."
Kohl's biggest problem was coming out of his shell when he moved in with his new owner and trainer Britta Closson, who comes from a long line of dog trainers. He was originally purchased as a great hunting dog, but was scared and skittish for about six months -- until he found his calling in retrieving bats and tees.
"He's just a rock star, man," said Closson, who works at Positive Pets Dog Training in Boise. "Once we put the confidence in him, he was unstoppable. You can literally teach him to do just about anything.
"I'm just there to tell him when to go," she said.
They brave the Boise cold together every home game for four quarters.
"The players are like 'Go Kohl! Go Kohl!" she said. "He gets so excited, he'll start barking and whining. If you were standing next to me on the sideline, you'd be like, 'Oh my God, this dog is 100 mile an hour all the time.' Everyone seems to love him."
What's not to love?