While no one was expecting greatness from junior college transfer Jaime Salazar this season, Wildcat fans at least hoped to see some improvement out of the kicking game in 2011. After one game, it was more of the same: botched snaps, missed field goals, and botched extra points.
Surely it has to end sometime, right?
Despite being replaced late in the Northern Arizona game for senior Alex Zendejas, who lost his job in camp after struggling the last two seasons, Salazar will be the starting place-kicker for the Wildcats on Thursday night as they battle the Oklahoma State Cowboys.
According to Salazar, it's just about staying calm and collected on the big stage. This is a player who has gone from playing in front of 500 fans to 50,000 fans in the span of about eight months, after all. And while it certainly isn't an excuse, it is time for the kicker to step up or become the backup one again.
"I can't let the environment, can't the stadium, get in my way," he said. "Can't let those 50,000 people get in my way. Can't let nothing get to me."
It will only get worse Thursday in front of 60,000 hostile fans at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Okla.
"I just can't let it get in the way," he said talking about the charged atmosphere on Thursday. "If I do, it's going to mess up my kick. I just have to go in, knowing I am going to make it no matter what. It's not going to go left or right, it's just going to go in."
Sounds like a plan to me. Being a place-kicker at the high levels of football is just as every bit mentally demanding as it is physically demanding, and it is essential to block everything out while kicking in a big game. Zendejas was never able to do that, and he lost his job because of it. Will Salazar be able to? His first test comes Thursday night in front of the entire nation.
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