Many people dubbed last season as "The Year of the Kicker", a title earned as much by costly misses as clutch makes.
From Boise State's kicker-induced heartbreak (again), to the Alabama versus LSU Part I field goal flurry, to Oklahoma State's lost title game-costing miss against Iowa State and countless others, the past season was a rough one for the nation's kickers.
Arizona State was not immune to such disappointment.
After a strong 6-2 start had the Sun Devils atop the Pac-12 South and in control of their destiny, the November 5th game at UCLA seemed like a mere formality in the way of ASU's coronation as division champions. While a porous defense was to deserve much of the blame, it was kicker Alex Garoutte's 0-for-3 showing on field goals--including a 46-yarder on the game's final play--that drew much of the fan's ire in ASU's 29-28 loss.
The next week, a missed 21-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter at Washington State proved to be a large factor in the 37-27 loss, which officially threw the season--and Dennis Erickson's tenure--completely off the rails.
As costly as those misses were, they overshadowed a mostly solid debut season for the Sun Devils' talented kicker, now entering his sophomore season. Outside of those two games, Garoutte was 13-for-18 on field goals, and showed a strong leg, with three makes coming from over 47 yards.
While some kicker's may have let those disappointments get to them, Garoutte is using them as a growth opportunity for 2012 and beyond.
"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," Garoutte told us in an interview last week. "I feel like I'm stronger mentally now than ever before, just for having been through that."
From those dark days of last season has come new light and confidence in the form of head coach Todd Graham. Since Graham has taken over, he has made a diligent effort to bring the specialist more into the fold, which has really impressed Garoutte.
"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."
One of the more surprising aspects that Coach Graham has brought to the table is not only an interest in the kicking game, but a great knowledge of the art that he has passed on to his new kicker.
"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."
After some struggles early during spring practice, Garoutte finished strong and feels he has the confidence of the coaching staff, even to the point that Graham sees great things in Garoutte's future.
"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."
For now, ASU fans will settle for greater consistency, but with the talent in Garoutte's right leg, the future looks to be bright. With the 2012 Sun Devil team likely to be in a number of close and hotly contested games, wins and losses will be dependent on how much Garoutte is able to turn it around.