Since Thomas Weber won the Lou Groza Award in 2007, the kicking game has been a source of worry for Sun Devil fans. Weber was never able to recapture his freshman year success, and after he moved on, Alex Garoutte, a local product from Brophy, took over the placekicking duties last season.
Garoutte put together a solid season, connecting on 15 of his 22 field goals and 52 of 53 extra points. However, in the eyes of many fans, his impressive makes were overshadowed by costly misses against UCLA and Washington State late in the year.
With a new season and valuable experience gained, Garoutte is poised to leverage his powerful right leg into a successful season and a spot among the Pac-12's top kickers. We caught up with the talented sophomore for the next entry in our "12 in '12" series, and discussed a wide range of topics, including his thoughts on that UCLA kick, whether icing a kicker actually works, his new max range and Todd Graham's knowledge of placekicking.
Brad Denny: Jogging onto the field for your first collegiate field goal, a tough 49 yarder against UC Davis, what thoughts were running through your head? Were there any nerves at the moment?
Alex Garoutte: I was excited. It was probably the happiest day of my life, just getting to be out there for the very first time. I was more excited for the opportunity than anything. From 49-yards you want to make it, but there's leeway. It was a great first opportunity for me. It started me off with a lot of confidence. It was a good first field goal of my career.
BD: What was going through your mind as you lined up for that final field goal attempt against UCLA? Does the mental approach change for a big kick like that or is it the same each time?
AG: I really tried to get that out of my memory. But it happened, it was there. I wanted to do it for my teammates. I wanted to make it more than anything in the world, more than anybody out there. I wanted it more than anyone. Maybe I treated it like a game-winning kick and not just another kick. I think that's a big thing I've learned since then, you can't change things up for a kick. Every single one has to be the same, whether it's a game-winning 47-yarder or an extra point to kickoff the game against UC Davis.
BD: Most of the time after a key missed field goal, a kicker will take an unfair amount of heat as a result. Did you experience that at all during the difficult November slide, or were the ASU fans/students supportive?
AG: I kind of stayed away from the fan aspect. I didn't go on Facebook or anything because I knew I'd get it. I tried to stay away from the fan aspect just because I knew I had let a lot of people down. But the teammates and coaches were really supportive because we knew the season wasn't over, and there was more that had to happen. They kind of came around me a little bit to bring me up.
BD: Over the last four games, you ended the year on a positive note going a perfect 4/4 on field goals. How would you evaluate your first season as the Sun Devils' kicker?
AG: It was just that, a first season. Granted it was very important, but it is in the past now. The way I look at it, very few people can say they've been through what I've been through, and made it through and kept going. I feel like I'm stronger mentally now than ever before, just for having been through that. There's nothing that can shake me if that didn't shake me. I look at it as a really big learning experience in order to keep getting better and moving forward to helping this team.
BD: As a kicker, how important is momentum and confidence? Does coming off a big make or miss have any bearing on the next kick?
AG: It shouldn't, but we're all human. I think we've seen in the past that it does. It carries over a little bit, but that's the whole goal as a kicker, not to let it carry over. It makes you want the next kick that much more. If you start out 0/1, you don't really think about going 0/2, you think about coming back and going 1/2. The whole goal is to get rid of that and to not let it carry over. But it's part of the game. You have to learn from it and just move on.
BD: When other teams attempt to ice you before a big kick, does that ever have any effect?
AG: No. In my opinion, that's just a coach's call on if they think they are going to make the first kick or miss the first kick. The big thing is, our coach talked about it because we did it a little bit at the end of practices this year in spring ball--you stay away from the kicker. No one talk to the kicker, just let him do his thing. It's a new kick the second time you line up for it, so I guess you have more time to think about it. I haven't done a science on it, so no, I don't think it's a big deal.
BD: Players typically make a big leap from year one to two, so what have you been doing to improve your game this offseason?
AG: I've just been working. I've been working out hard in the weight room. I feel like I've gotten a lot stronger everywhere, and my leg has gotten a little stronger too. I've just been kicking a bunch. Changing some things up a little bit, really fine tuning my accuracy.
BD: Seven months ago, things surrounding the program were bleak, to say the least. But with the efforts since Todd Graham's hiring, they've seemed to turn around. What's it been like for the players during this transition period?
AG: One thing I really like is that I'm more of a player than a kicker now. He really incorporates that. If you were at practice you saw the "W Drill". We're running the ball, we're doing tackling circuits with the defense. We might have to make a tackle. From a kicker's perspective, we're way more incorporated into the team. He takes a ton of interest in the kickers, which I love. He has a lot of knowledge about kicking. That's rare in coaches in general at the college level. It's been a great transition for me. They're charting every kick, timing hang time on everything. He's out there giving his knowledge on the topic. I feel it made me a better kicker throughout the spring, just the short five weeks of working with him in my presence. As far as the team goes, from the weight training coach to him, just having us over to our coach's houses for dinner, to having 10:00pm conditioning sessions where it's a competition between offense and defense. They're trying to bring us together more than we ever have been. It's definitely been a positive experience for just about everyone.
BD: One of the effects of a new coaching staff coming in is a clean slate for everyone. Where do you feel the new coaching staff's confidence level in you is at following spring ball?
AG: From everything I've been around, I feel like they have good confidence in me. They want the best guy out there. So far, they think it's me. I feel like they have good confidence in me. I've watched a lot of film they had last year at Pittsburgh. He's not afraid to try field goals. He kicks a lot, and I like that. He always tells me that I'm going to be the leading scorer in the country. I think he's got good confidence in me, and that helps a lot.
BD: The one theme that has caught on the most with the ASU community thus far of the Todd Graham era has been "Speaking Victory". How do you define that phrase?
AG: Everything you do, do it to the best of your ability. Always talking positive. Never bringing down each other. Let the coaches do the coaching, always bring each other up. Just talking to random people every day. People have a perspective of football players, how they are just jocks, aren't good in the classroom, aren't nice to people on the street. It's getting rid of that image. Just going out, meeting people and putting out a good image of the football team. Letting them know that we believe and giving them reason to believe.
BD: What is going to define success both for you individually and as a team this fall?
AG: Success for me is making every kick. Ultimately, the best thing I can do to help the team is to be the very the best for me. Though that may sound selfish, obviously I'm a teammate, but making every kick is everything I can do, in my opinion. I want to be perfect. That's success for me. I want to be perfect. As a team, we want to win them all. It can happen. If you can breakdown each thing, each play, each game, we can win them all if we do it one step at a time.
BD: In your mind, what is the one X-factor for the team this season?
AG: How well we all play together. It seems like we can so far, although the season has yet to happen. If we can all be on the same page, every single person, offense and defense. Make it a team, rather than offense versus defense, and have people on the sidelines cheering for each other and not getting made at each other. Really coming together and having this common goal. You'd think we do, but it's rare. In college football--and I'm not saying here--generally there are a lot of individuals. Really coming together is what makes teams great and having people with a common purpose.
Bonus Question: What is your maximum range?
AG: What would they try in a game? I would say 55. If you need a game-winner, I could go 60. I'm pretty sure I've hit 60 a few times in practice recently.
Previous interview in our "12 in '12" series: QB Michael Eubank