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ASU Football: Zane Gonzalez has been reliable at a record-breaking level

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Gonzalez is on course to become the NCAA's all-time leading points scorer.

Northern Arizona v Arizona State Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

It has become a familiar sight at Arizona State football games.

He takes three steps back.
He raises his right arm to check his lineup.
Two steps to his left.
A deep breath.

Left, right, plant, head down, swing.

Uprights: split.

In the unpredictable landscape of college kickers, record-breaking reliability has become the norm for ASU senior kicker Zane Gonzalez.

Over the last three seasons and a quarter through the 2016 campaign, Gonzalez has attempted 103 field goals, more than any other FBS kicker in that time span, and he’s only missed a whopping 19 of them.

His 81.5 percent conversion rate has him closing in on the NCAA all-time points and field goals records, both of which should fall at some point this season. ASU head coach Todd Graham has come to rely on the Texas-native more and more over his career.

"We’ve been spoiled," Graham said. "It gives us great comfort. He’s been a major factor in every game we’ve had this year, especially on the road. He’s a very, very talented young man, but he worked really, really hard, too."

To say anyone saw this coming when Gonzalez stepped on campus as a self-described "little guy" who weighed around 145 pounds would be a stretch. In fact, all of it -- the records, the game-winners, the obscene amount of touchbacks -- almost never happened.

A soccer player in high school, Gonzalez had an open opportunity to play with his older brother at San Jacinto College (Pasadena, Texas). He held an offer from Nevada, but wasn’t too interested, and a month after National Letter of Intent Day, ASU made the call.

"I didn’t get a lot of looks (in high school)," Gonzalez said. It was a rough recruiting cycle, but I’m blessed to be here... You either get offered earlier or you get offered late, and I wasn’t offered until like a month or so after signing day."

He won the field-goal kicking spot over Alex Garoutte, who still kept kickoff duties during Gonzalez’ freshman year.

That’s when the records started to fall. His 18 consecutive field goals and 138 points were school records, and his 25 total field goals tied an NCAA freshman record.

His best might have come during his sophomore year against Utah, a walk-off 36-yarder in overtime.

Gonzalez kept adding to his game, finally taking over kickoff duties as a junior and going on to lead the country in touchback percentage (75 percent). This season, Gonzalez is kicking the ball out of the end zone at an 81-percent clip. ASU has made a habit of winning the field position battle so far this season, and Gonzalez is a big reason why.

But don’t let that overshadow the fact that he’s gotten better at kicking field goals, too.

Coming into the year, Gonzalez had one obvious flaw: in four attempts, he hadn’t converted a single 50-yard field goal.

He quickly put that fact to rest.

In ASU’s season opener against Northern Arizona, he converted a career-long 53-yarder with ease. Two weeks later, he knocked two more in from 54-yards, a new career-best.

"He’s worked hard at technique and that’s really the biggest thing that’s helped him," ASU special teams coach Shawn Slocum said.

Slocum, who spent nearly a decade in the NFL, thinks Gonzalez has "a shot" at an NFL career.

"Physically, he’s gifted, and I think mentally, he’s got a good mindset for being a kicker," Slocum said. "Things aren’t too good or not too bad. He’s pretty even keeled, even tempered, so when he’s in a tight situation in the game, he just goes out and does his job."

Kicking is as big of a head-game as any within football, and Gonzalez acknowledged the detail-oriented nature of his job.

"There’s a lot of little things in kicking, so I feel like a lot of people just don’t know," he said. "It’s kind of hard to explain. It’s just a mental thing. You just have to stay humble, keep your head down and swing through.

"For kicking, it’s like a golf swing, basically. You can’t try to kill it every time."

He also is quick to give credit to the man who holds every kick for him: punter Matt Haack.

"People may not know, but Matt Haack is literally incredible," Gonzalez said. "Without him -- he saves the day on a lot of the snaps. There’s a lot of moments that he’s saved the day on."

One such occasion came on one of the 54-yard field goals against UTSA. The snap was a bit off-kilter, but Haack snagged it and placed it for his Gonzalez to convert another career-high field goal.

"(Haack)’s really athletic," Gonzalez said. "He’s got great hands. I give him all the credit in the world."

Graham has reiterated his confidence in Gonzalez several times this season, even putting him above elite in his mind, saying he might even consider letting him try one from 60 yards out.

"Any time your coach has confidence in you -- ever since you were a little kid playing a little soccer league or whatever -- when your coach has confidence in you, it really helps you perform better on the field because you’re more at ease with yourself," Gonzalez said.

On his second 54-yarder against Texas-San Antonio, Gonzalez broke the Pac-12 career points record previously held by UCLA’s Ka'imi Fairbairn, but Gonzalez said didn’t even know until he checked his phone after the game.

"I try not to (think about the record)," Gonzalez said. "It’s always in the back of your head. For me, I’d rather just try to make each and every kick."

Although Gonzalez is as humble as it comes when discussing his illustrious career, he isn’t shy about one thing: EA Sports FIFA.

A Chelsea FC fan, Gonzalez said he is by far the best FIFA player on the team.

"I’ve lost a few times, but for the most part, it’s definitely me," he said.

Considering his career at ASU, it might be safe to say he’s as good at kicking in real life as he is in a video game though.

From almost playing soccer at a junior college, to threatening to be the best kicker in college football history, Gonzalez has been a consistent figure in four of Graham’s five years at the helm of the program. Imagining ASU’s kicking game without him is hard to ponder, but that’s not what matters. What matters was the commitment that came a month after signing day.

"(Recruiting) was a horrible process," he said. "But I’m happy I’m here."