Image Credit: UAA/Tim Casey
Trust me, it makes sense. The Florida Gators having a kicker capable of booting consecutive field goals from 50-plus yards for the first time since the departure of Caleb Sturgis is exciting for fans.
Hell, even the coaching staff took a breath.
“It was a little bit of a relief, even for us as a staff. We wanted to see how he would do kind of in the stadium and that kind of thing. I thought he answered the bell pretty darn good,” said head coach Jim McElwain of redshirt sophomore kicker Eddy Pineiro. “Early in the game, it was windy as heck, so the wind was swirling down there. Just to see him kind of navigate that … most of his YouTube videos are in perfect weather, so it was good to see him have some wind in there.”
But while Pineiro impressed with his performance during Friday night’s 2016 Orange & Blue Debut spring game, way too much is being made of his effort.
Yes, Pineiro made field goals of 52, 46 and 56 (!) yards. It was somewhat incredible. You know what else he did? Missed badly from 52 and 53 yards, one particularly so.
That’s not to say his effort — which extended beyond field goals to extra points and praiseworthy kickoffs — should be diminished, per se. Rather, it needs to be put in perspective: Pineiro is still incredibly inexperienced and both fans and media are making a bit too much of a guy technically doing what he’s supposed to do.
Remember: Pineiro had not even attempted a field goal in a game, let alone one with a crowd as big as that at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Friday night. That’s the good news. Remember: Pineiro has yet to kick a field goal against a true live rush in a game that actually matters.
“It started with getting really excited when he put his helmet on correctly. That was pretty cool. Then he got it buckled. That was even better. So, bit by bit,” McElwain said after the spring game.
“I’ve really enjoyed being around him. The team really enjoys being around him. [He’s level-headed.] That was good to see. He’s got a lot to work on, especially from a timing standpoint. But I think even when you saw the kickoffs, we did a couple things where we wanted him to just go ahead and kick it out. Our hangtimes were unbelievable when we told him to drop it on the goal line. For him to be able to do that, now your kickoff team has an opportunity to create field position just by that. That kind of went unnoticed, but I thought he did a great job with that.”
McElwain said Pineiro was “begging” him for the additional field goal attempts on Friday night. Perhaps McElwain never would have attempted all five of those in a game — and five kicks of that distance, plus kickoffs and extra points, can certainly tire out a kicker.
“We got a chance to let Eddy go out there and kick a little bit, kind of get used to what it’s going to be like. I was going to punt it on that one and he talked me into kicking it. I don’t know how far it was, but it was a long ways away,” McElwain said.
“I didn’t give him any chip shots by any means. I was most happy with the PAT field goal; we’re getting up quickly on good time so I don’t think we’ll have any of that issue where guys are coming up the middle. He gets the ball up quick. I thought our operation time was pretty darn good for a group of guys working together for just the spring. They’ll obviously need to have a really good summer in doing that.”
This is not meant to put a damper on what was certainly a highlight of Friday: seeing the ball actually go through the uprights for three points and one point, UF not missing scoring opportunities and some rare special teams juice being injected into the program.
But when Sturgis doesn’t get his name chanted for being one of the best kickers in school history, perhaps the praise and expectations should be tempered for a guy who went 3-for-5 on a spring evening against no rush in a friendly environment.
Pineiro could be a difference maker for the Gators in the fall. For now? He’s a guy still learning how to be a college kicker, perhaps a damn good one.