By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
How confident of a young man is Chandler Catanzaro?
On his official visit to Clemson when he was a senior at Christ Church High School in Greenville, S.C., Catanzaro told head coach Dabo Swinney he was not coming to Clemson to be just another kicker, but he was coming there to leave a legacy and break records.
“I guess that’s what happened,” the now senior said earlier this week.
It was even a bolder statement considering Catanzaro was going to have to walk-on to the team in the first place. But, the 6-foot-2, 195-pound kicker backed up his claim as he needs only eight points to become the Tigers’ all-time scoring leader.
That’s a record he very well could eclipse when No. 3 Clemson visits NC State Thursday night (7:30 / ESPN) in Raleigh, N.C.
“I have just stayed in the process and have taking it kick by kick,” the graduate student said. “It’s the next kick mentality. It’s very special to do this, but at the same time, I’m not satisfied.”
In two games this year, Catanzaro has already scored 17 points and has 322 for his career. Currently former kicker Aaron Hunt holds the record for most points scored in a Clemson career with 329 from 2000-‘03.
“I think you have to remember there are four parts to every kick,” Catanzaro said. “That’s the snap and the hold—Michael Sobeski and Corbin Jenkins have done an excellent job with that as well as past snappers and holders—and of course the blocking up front; and the kick, obviously.
“Every time we go out there, we earn those points. That is a team effort and I will not be able to that without those guys. This is much their record as it is mine so I’m very grateful to them for doing their job for me and making my job easier.”
It’s hard to imagine Catanzaro ever being in this situation three years ago when he missed a 37-yard kick in overtime at Auburn that directly caused Clemson to lose the game. It was the first time in his life, he had failed to produce.
“That was a big turning point in my faith,” the graduate student said. “When that happened, I was devastated. To fail on that big of a stage is not fun. That never really happened to me before. I took it pretty hard. I talked to my family, and my dad and mom. They said, ‘Whenever one door closes, God opens up another. That’s what has been driving me.
“I just play for Him. (Former punter) Dawson Zimmerman put it in a great way; he says he plays for an audience of one. And that’s what I have been doing. I have been playing for God and for His glory. It’s been fun. I play for my family and I play for my namesake. That’s my motivation. You have to play for something bigger than yourself, especially at this level.”
That motivation has allowed Catanzaro to become one of the best kickers in the country, as well as one of the more clutch ones, too.
In 2011, with a trip to the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship Game on the line, he split the uprights with a 43-yard field goal as time expired to beat Wake Forest – the first-game winning field goal by a Clemson kicker in Death Valley history as time expired.
After starting his career 8-of-15, Catanzaro has made 48 of his last 55 field goal attempts or, better yet, he has made 87 percent of his kicks over the last two and a half seasons. He has been especially accurate the last 21 games, making 28 of his last 29 attempts.
“It’s pretty cool and it is special what I have been able to do at this level,” he said. “I do look at that a little bit. You have to be proud of yourself a little bit. It is definitely cool, but my focus is that I’m never satisfied and I try to get better each and every day.”
Catanzaro has made 27 kicks in a row inside 48 yards, including last year’s game-winning kick over No. 7 LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
“We like to try and keep him on the bench as much as we can,” Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris said. “We would like to kind of go ahead and put it in the end zone, but to know we have a guy that is dependable as he is and has made the big kicks in the big time games, that says a lot.
“We always tell our quarterbacks and tell our team that anytime we get in that red zone, we have three points if we just don’t screw it up. That’s what made us so effective in the red zone last year because we took that approach… Knowing we have a guy like him, that is definitely a comfort.”
And it all starts with confidence.