Pressure in Practice Helps ASU's Arauco Succeed on Game Days
They'll slap Josh Arauco on the helmet while he's trying to make a field goal.
They'll scream in the Arkansas State kicker's ear or tug on his drawers while he's trying to concentrate. They'll wave their arms and cast spidery shadows over the ball as Arauco makes his approach.
They'll make him kick from otherworldly angles, from the sidelines, out of bounds, near the practice field parking lot, until the target window Arauco has left is not much bigger than the length of a football shoe.
They'll put the team on pins and needles watching Arauco make his end-of-practice kicks - his every miss meaning one more conditioning run and the potential wrath of 104 players in the locker room.
"I would have to say it's way, way worse to miss in practice," Arauco said.
Is this any way to treat an all-Sun Belt Conference player, a record-setting, Lou Groza award finalist and a guy who has done his part to help the Red Wolves win big games?
As it turns out, the answer is yes.
It may not be the treatment a mild-mannered guy like Arauco deserves, but it is has surely helped make him the kicker he is entering his final season.
"I definitely have had a blast," Arauco said. "Playing football here has taken me some places that I know for a fact that I would never, ever go if I had not been involved in football and got to meet people that obviously I would never meet. I've had a great experience here and had a great ride."
Arauco has played at places like Texas and Tennessee and this year he will go to Nebraska, Iowa and Louisville. He also got to make a trip to Orlando, Fla., last year as a finalist for the Lou Groza award given to the nation's top college kicker.
Certainly it's a trip Arauco might not have made if he hadn't been willing to log the hours and endure the daily abuse in practice.
"It really just comes down to me wanting to be a better kicker," Arauco said.
Some things, like the pressure of kicking with the game on the line and a crowd screaming its lungs out, can't be simulated. But that doesn't mean the Arkansas State coaching staff hasn't tried.
"We'll make some noise, we'll do that some," Coach Steve Roberts said. "Try to joke with him or distract him any way that you possibly can, clapping your hands in his face or hollering at him or yanking his shorts or whatever it takes just to get him to focus and he does a great job of staying locked in."
By his admission Arauco was a lousy kicker, at least by collegiate standards, when he showed up as a walk-on out of South Grand Prairie (Texas) High School in 2005.
"Yeah, I was terrible," said Arauco, looking as if he had just smelled something rotten.
Roberts, also the Red Wolves' special teams coordinator, didn't flinch when he agreed with Arauco's evaluation. But, Roberts said, Arauco was willing to do what it took to improve.
"Josh is an incredible story. Maybe the worst college kicker that I've ever seen as a freshman," Roberts said. "Lacked the leg strength, lacked the timing and the consistency. Everything. But he probably has the best work ethic of anybody that I've ever been around, and he worked himself into being one of the best kickers in college football."
Arauco was basically fourth string during his redshirt year in 2005, then he got a few breaks to go with his hard work. One player was dismissed, another potential competitor was injured, and when his opportunity came, Arauco delivered.
"I think at that time I was getting one kick every two weeks, so it was do or die, make or miss," Arauco said.
"There was no giving him the job," Roberts said. "He competed and earned the job. And that's an easy position to evaluate because it's either good or it's not and it's either on time or it's late. He was on time with his kicks and very accurate. He won the position through everything that we charted in fall camp."
Arauco was 12 for 16 for a .750 percentage and suffered three blocked attempts his freshman year in 2006. He was 15 for 23 as a sophomore, causing his percentage to dip, but he kicked a career high 15 field goals, converted a career long of 45 yards, had two attempts blocked and was 34 for 34 on extra-point attempts.
For Arauco, 2007 was a turning point. He recalled the season opener at Texas, when Arkansas State threw a scare into the Longhorns but lost 21-13 after the Red Wolves recovered an onside kick but had the play overturned on an illegal formation penalty later admitted to have been a mistake by the Big 12 officials.
Arauco, 2 for 4 on field-goal attempts, said the call might have been moot if he had had a better game.
"Obviously the game ended up becoming close, we got the bad call on the onside kick," Arauco said. "That whole situation right there made me realize I had to bring my A game every time. Especially with our league getting so good now, anyone can win."
Then came last season.
Arauco was 17 for 20 for a career-best .850 percentage and had no field goals blocked. He set an Arkansas State record with 15 consecutive field goals. He led the Sun Belt and was 12th in the nation with an average 1.55 field goals per game.
In the blowout against Texas Southern, Arauco broke the Sun Belt record for kicking points with 17 and extra points made with 11, and he now stands first at Arkansas State and second in the Sun Belt with 44 career field goals.
And, oh yeah, he was among the three finalists for the Lou Groza award along with Florida State's Graham Gano and Utah's Louie Sakoda. Ultimately, the award went to Gano.
"I really wasn't disappointed," Arauco said. "First off, I didn't really feel that I deserved to be there because I couldn't kick past 45 and the other two guys were bombing 55 no problem. It was a real eye-opener for me and a real humbling experience because those guys were the cream of the crop for our generation of football and being in the same room with them was a real great experience."
Arauco's predecessor Eric Neihouse was Kevin Butler-1980s-style-Chicago Bears cocky. Arauco is just the opposite. He freely admits, rather than take the spotlight, he'd prefer to stand on the sideline and watch his teammates win a blowout.
But if Arauco is called on to win a game, he has no qualms. Look no further than last year's season opener at Texas A&M, when Arauco single-footedly kept the Red Wolves in contention with three field goals, then provided the final margin with his fourth, a 37-yarder for insurance with 1:35 left in the 18-14 victory.
"Me personally, I would rather win by three touchdowns and get the game over with but I'm not going to shy away from the opportunity," Arauco said. "Some people love doing that. There's enough pressure on me as it is. Just because we get so few opportunities you have to make the most of them."
By Todd Traub
Special to the Arkansas State Athletics Department from Todd Traub.
courtesy: ASU Sports Information