Monday, 4 a.m.
The clock is ticking. The air is getting thin. His palms are sweating.
Ahead, in the distance, the goalposts are impossibly close together. If you squint, they look like pool cues jutting out next to each other. The players are looking at you. The coach is looking at you. The fans are looking at you.
The field is at an odd angle. He swears that his eyes, of all things, are sweating. He can feel his own heartbeat. The doubts try to overcome his confidence.
Can Roberto Aguayo deal with all of this?
And can he deal with it if his competition is dealing with it, too?
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For Aguayo, the stakes just got real in the high-wire art of placekicking. There is competition. Every kick he makes will be followed by a kick from Nick Folk. If one sails wide on a forgotten August practice, well, someone will be there to chart it.
Last year, there was status and prestige, but pretty much, the job was handed to him, and everyone just looked on and cheered on those occasions that they could. Aguayo wasn't very good, but he was a second-round draft pick, so everyone tried not to notice.
Heck, the best placekicker in the world wouldn't have gotten the Bucs to the Super Bowl. He might have gotten them closer, but not in the Bowl.
Still, it might not have mattered that Aguayo was a wreck if the team hadn't paid for a Porsche. Statistics, the lack of production and the price of the kicker (late second round) caused a lot of jokes pointed in the Bucs' direction last year.
And why not? Last year, Aguayo was the 35th-ranked kicker in a 32-team league. He hit only 71 percent (22 of 31). Twenty-six kickers hit 80 percent of their kicks. Six bettered 90 percent. Aguayo's longest field goal was 43 yards, which makes you wonder how many the Bucs' didn't try.
Look, there is nothing wrong with the concept of Aguayo. He's a young kicker who, like a lot of other kickers, may eventually find his way. But the team cannot afford to wait on him. Either Aguayo catches up, or he's let go.
There will be even more pressure on Aguayo this season. He has to be good from the first kick. A year ago, Aguayo looked fragile mentally. He can't afford that again.
Kickers drive coaches crazy, of course. They don't get out-muscled, and they don't get outrun. They just compete with the juggling balls in their heads while the coach stands there helplessly.
Competition? Of course there will be competition. The Bucs brought in Folk (who was tied for 10th among NFL kickers at 87.1 percent). But Foles wasn't perfect, either. He had three field goals blocked, including one (and a missed extra point) in a loss to Cincinnati. In placekicking, few are perfect.
But what are the Bucs supposed to do? Suffer through another season waiting for Aguayo be a weapon? No, it's better to put the pressure on him now – in the form of competition – than later – in the form of moving goal posts..
Aguayo can't complain. There is competition, too, on Noah Spence, the Bucs' other second-round draft pick. There is competition for Jameis Winston. For Mike Evans. It's a big-boy job. No one rides for free. To make this team, to keep these colors, Aguayo has to beat out a kicker who has hit 81.3 percent of his field goals over a 10-year span.
Hey, Aguayo was one of the best field goal kickers in the country while in college. A little competition shouldn't faze him. It's a competition business. But if Auguyo is ready to change colors and become one of those moving-caravan guys, it's probably the right time to start. Teams are always beholding to kickers; they carry one, and they need him to be accurate.
How accurate? Sure, you'd like one of the 90 percent guys. But 18 kickers hit 85 percent. Let's start there and pull for 87 percent (11 kickers, roughty the top one-third of the league).
A story: In 1985, the Miami Dolphins drafted a kicker named Fuad Reveiz. They had an incumbent named Uwe von Schaman, who had sputtered (nine of 19 field goals the year before). But during training camp, Von Schaman didn't kick at all. He was cut with no preseason attempts. He cried foul, saying he never got a chance, but Don Shula merely shrugged. “We had a history on Uwe,” was his only answer.
Still, Aguayo is young. I'd think he could get by Folk in a narrow competition.
And then it starts over every Sunday. Kickers aren't safe often, and it doesn't last very long. The coach always has a mallet and a gong.
Aguayo will be straight, or he will be long gone.
As it should be.