By William Qualkinbush
Often absent in these kinds of discussions are specialists. Offensive and defensive personnel get the majority of the praise, but it is often the kickers who determine wins and losses by setting the stage for great drives or stops. Sometimes kickers even steal the limelight themselves.
Placeckicker Chandler Catanzaro has certainly done some limelight-stealing during his Clemson career. There was the game-winner against Wake Forest in 2011 that clinched the Tigers’ second division title. Catanzaro also won the most recent game for the Tigers against LSU with a kick that dominated SportsCenter on New Year’s Day.
Catanzaro came to Clemson with little fanfare. He did not immediately have a scholarship and faced an uphill battle to see the field with several highly-touted players ahead of him. When he got his chance, Catanzaro had some early struggles that have helped him become one of the nation’s premier kickers.
Costly misses against eventual national champion Auburn, Boston College, and Florida State haunted his freshman season. However, Catanzaro bounced back to hit 22-of-27 field goals in 2011, including the aforementioned kick against the Demon Deacons.
The 2012 season was an outstanding year for Catanzaro. He went from developing clutch sensitivities to being a reliable force at all times. One single miss—in a 29-point victory over Wake Forest—was all he had for the entire season. Along the way, he made four field goals against Auburn in the season-opening win, and he drilled the much-publicized kick against LSU in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl.
This coming year, Clemson has big plans to have success at the highest level. Placekicking will undoubtedly play a major role in at least one or two games, and teams will turn to guys like Catanzaro to convert on chances that can make the difference between winning and losing.
The kicking game is either a major strength or a colossal weakness. Rarely does a team win a championship of any kind without a kicker it can count on. With that said, teams have won championships with less-accomplished kickers than Catanzaro.
The Lou Groza Award semifinalist is poised to have a great season. Frankly, it will be difficult for him to improve much since he only missed a single field goal last season (and two extra points). But based on the way he has contributed late in games, this may be Clemson’s most important weapon.
But on this list, he will have to settle for fourth place.