Greg Hansen: PATs used to be easy for kickers at Arizona

2011-10-07T00:00:00Z 2012-11-30T16:19:20Z Greg Hansen: PATs used to be easy for kickers at ArizonaGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
October 07, 2011 12:00 am  • 

The sound your transmission makes when something goes wrong, a clank, clump or thump, has become the soundtrack to Arizona's kicking game.

For the first time in decades, Place-Kicker U is down for repairs.

In 2008, Arizona kicker Jason Bondzio was 55 for 55 in point-after-touchdown kicks. It was like a 2-foot putt.

When he graduated, nobody said, "We're really gonna miss Jason." He made 92 of 93 PAT kicks in his career. Where have you gone, Jason Bondzio?

In 1996, UA kicker Matt Peyton was 38 for 38. How tough can it be? He was also the team's punter.

Until now, kicking extra points at Arizona has been as automatic as Salim Stoudamire shooting free throws.

In 2006, Nick Folk was 22 for 22.

In 1994, Steve McLaughlin was 26 for 26.

In 1990, Gary Coston was 32 for 32.

Not that Coston, or any UA kicker, ever avoided the demons that accompany a kicker's pre-snap thoughts.

Before Coston enrolled at Arizona in the fall of 1986, he saw a sports psychologist and a hypnotist. Whatever those people said, it worked. Under whatever spell, Coston was 37 for 37 kicking PATs as a Wildcat freshman and made 23 of 26 field goal attempts.

He was so good that UA coach Larry Smith said "Coston is the best kicker I've ever seen." And that was after Smith coached Max Zendejas, 1982-85, who, for my money, was the Most Valuable Football Player at Arizona in the decade of the '80s.

I tell you this because UA place-kickers Alex Zendejas and Jaime Salazar have already missed four PAT attempts this year and are a puzzling 2 for 5 in field goal attempts.

Golfers call it the yips. Kickers call it the pits.

How can this be? In 1921, UA place-kicker Harold "Nosey" McClellan, successfully kicked 52 of 53 PAT attempts. You can look it up in the Star's microfiche as I did Tuesday.

Ninety years ago, "Nosey" made every point-after kick in Arizona's 110-0 victory over New Mexico Military. It wasn't just luck or just a good day for kicking. A few weeks later he made every PAT attempt in a 74-0 victory over UTEP.

UA coach Mike Stoops half-laughed, half-grimaced on Monday when he reviewed his team's place-kicking with a suggestion that he might hold open tryouts on campus.

Until now, kicking at Arizona has been a peaceful, rewarding and star-making business.

In 1989, junior college transfer Doug Pfaff replaced injured Coston and promptly became the Pac-10's three-time special teams player of the week.

He was known as Pfabulous. And he was a replacement kicker.

Pfaff beat No. 6 Oklahoma with a 40-yard field goal at the gun 6-3. He kicked four field goals in a 19-3 victory over Stanford. He beat Washington 20-17 with a 35-yarder with 1:07 remaining. He got his name in the paper more than the quarterbacks.

And he made all 32 PATs he attempted.

The Wildcats had such a history of good kicking that a year later, 1989, Pfaff and Coston shared the job. They were 27 for 27 on PATs. Pfaff completed his UA career perfect, 42 for 42, on extra-point kicks. Coston was 112 for 113 in his career.

Those numbers are now incomprehensible to those who follow UA football.

On Wednesday, I asked Pfaff , director of business development for a Texas flooring company, if he had any advice for Zendejas.

"I would need to fix him mentally," he responded. "He needs to get the ball up in the air and not hit them so low."

Perfection is possible.

Nick Folk twice had perfect PAT seasons at Arizona: 18 for 18 in Stoops' first season, 2004, and 22 for 22 two years later. I thought I saw him kick blindfolded one day against Washington State, but maybe there was a bug on my binoculars.

When Arizona broke into the Pac-10, Palo Verde High School grad Bill Zivic was asked to fill the sizable soccer shoes of Lee Pistor, an All-WAC kicker who was 120-for-127 in career PATs.

Zivic was perfect, 28 for 28, in 1979. But, given the UA's kicking history, he couldn't keep his job. A year later, walk-on Brett Weber became the team's kicker and went 26 for 26.

Weber was among the first of Arizona's celebrity kickers. After making a last-second field goal to stun Arizona State 18-17 and put Arizona in the 1979 Fiesta Bowl, Weber entertained reporters by stressing that "my name is spelled with one 'B' and two T's." He said he was so relaxed that before the kick he joked with coach Tony Mason about getting a new pair of skis for Christmas."

A year later, Max Zendejas was so good that he took Weber's job and became something of an Arizona legend, making 122 of 124 PATs and tearing the heart out of the Sun Devils with late field goals to win games in 1983, 1984 and 1985, not to mention beating undefeated Notre Dame with another.

On pure numbers, Coston is probably the most accurate kicker in UA history (sorry, Nosey). But even he knows what Salazar and Alex Zendejas are going through.

In a 1987 tie against Cal, 29-29, Coston missed the only PAT of his 113 career attempts. He also missed a short field goal attempt.

"If I could have found a hole to hide in, I would have hid," he said then. "I was angry with my performance and myself. I didn't want to step back on the field."

Now, 24 years later, we feel his pain.

Contact Greg Hansen at 573-4362 or ghansen@azstarnet.com

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