Let's play the word association game, Sun Devil fans. I'll throw out a term and you say the first thing that comes to mind. Ready?
I know many of you just said "choke", "miss" or "UCLA"...perhaps with some profane adjectives attached.
Clearly, the wounds are still present, and they should be. Garoutte missed all three of his attempts in the season's defining loss, a 29-28 defeat at UCLA that began the season-ending five-game losing streak. He then missed a key 21-yarder in the fourth quarter in the next week's loss at Washington State. There is no denying the cost of those losses.
Yet, those kicks overshadowed an otherwise solid debut season by the redshirt freshman as Arizona State's kicker. In fact, there was enough shown by Garoutte both last season and so far during the offseason to turn this area of concern into a strength.
Outside of those two games, Garoutte connected on 13 of his 16 field goal attempts (81.3%) and 52 of 53 extra points (one was blocked versus Missouri). He had a string of six successful field goals in the middle of the year, and ended the year with four straight makes, so we've seen Garoutte be able to get on a roll.
Leg strength is not a concern. Garoutte made four kicks of 46 yards or longer in 2011, with his first career field goal being a successful 49-yarder against UC Davis. With an offseason of hard work, his max range is now much longer. When I asked him last week about that, he said, "I would say 55. If you need a game-winner, I could go 60. I'm pretty sure I've hit 60 a few times in practice recently."
So with the physical ruled out, it would stand to reason the issue would then turn to consistency, confidence and focus. Instead of letting the struggles of last year impeded him, he's using it as a learning experience.
"The way I look at it, very few people can say they've been through what I've been through, and made it through and kept going. I feel like I'm stronger mentally now than ever before, just for having been through that. There's nothing that can shake me if that didn't shake me."
One fan of Garoutte's is also the most important: head coach Todd Graham. Unlike many coaches, Graham possesses a wealth of knowledge about the art of placekicking, and that effort from him and the coaching staff has already paid dividends for Garoutte.
"He takes a ton of interest in the kickers, which I love. He has a lot of knowledge about kicking. That's rare in coaches in general at the college level. It's been a great transition for me. They're charting every kick, timing hang time on everything. He's out there giving his knowledge on the topic. I feel it made me a better kicker throughout the spring, just the short five weeks of working with him in my presence."
With the talent and momentum now in Garoutte's favor, Graham sees big things in his--and in turn, the team's--future.
"He always tells me that I'm going to be the leading scorer in the country. I think he's got good confidence in me, and that helps a lot."