The Florida Gators won 10 games, captured a division crown for the first time since 2009 and played for a Southeastern Conference title last season. And to be blunt, they basically did it all without a field goal kicker.
When you consider how terrible Florida’s kicking game was in 2015, it’s completely understandable why head coach Jim McElwain went all out to land who the Gators believed was the top potential signee at the position in small-school transfer Eddy Pineiro.
But Pinero is not your typical kicker who joins a college team following a stellar high school career.
Pinero, who began practicing with Florida this spring as a redshirt sophomore, was on a soccer scholarship at ASA College Miami. When it became evident that the midfielder had an aptitude for kicking field goals, he chose not to continue playing soccer and instead concentrated on football. Pineiro began training as a football kicker in February, won a seasonal kicking challenge in April with an 86-yard kickoff and 71-yard field goal (off a post), and began receiving scholarship offers shortly thereafter.
He was not a member of the school’s 2015 football team, and despite doing kickoffs and kicking extra points occasionally as a senior in high school, he never kicked a field goal in a high school game or played in a college contest.
In other words, Pineiro has a strong leg, but it and he are completely green.
You’ve definitely seen the social media videos of Pineiro booting long field goals, knocking through chip shots and blasting kicks while half a dozen players run all around him as a method of distraction. And you most certainly heard McElwain praise Pineiro for kicking a 58-yard field goal during the first week of spring practice. But none of that is actually important outside of proving that the kid has confidence.
What matters is whether Pineiro can kick field goals in a game of any kind, whether he has the ability to set up and boot the ball in the thin time frame he’s provided to put three points on the scoreboard.
It is to that end that McElwain explained that Pineiro has already taken a step forward in spring practice.
“He’s been doing good,” the coach said Monday. “The operation time has steadily come down. It’s something we really needed to work on from the start of practice.”
Operation time is the short period a kicker has to get a ball off the ground before it is likely to get blocked. Generally, one has 1.2-1.4 seconds to complete the operation from snap to kick.
When you consider how many things can go wrong in that short window – off-center snap, awkward hold, not hitting the ball square – practice and repetition truly does make perfect. To that end, Pineiro certainly seems to be putting in the time, but the coaching staff is also trying to flummox him with unique practice scenarios.
“We’re putting him in situations every day where he doesn’t quite know when it’s going to happen. His understanding that you kind of got to be ready throughout the practice, just like a game, you never know when those kicks are going to come,” McElwain said. “He’s starting to move on the ball a little quicker. It’s great to really see the ball get up as quick as it does off his foot.”
How will this experiment ultimately end? It’s tough to know at this point, but Pineiro’s confidence coupled with trust from the coaching staff and a glowing endorsement from his trainer sure make it seem like Florida’s kicking woes, if not solved, will at the very least be much improved.