Clemson kicker Chandler Catanzaro could lead a seminar on perseverance.
The redshirt junior from Greenville’s Christ Church High has gone from the outhouse to the penthouse during his college career. The guy who once couldn’t fully be counted upon is now one of the nation’s best.
“I think we all remember a couple of years ago how bad he was as a freshman,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “That’s a great lesson for everybody — that freshman do get better. I just knew that guy had something special about him. He just kept on believing in himself and I’m really proud of him.”
Catanzaro kicked a pair of field goals in last week’s win against Furman to tie a school record with 14 consecutive makes, a mark established 32 years ago by Obed Ariri. Catanzaro is 17 of 23 from 40 yards or more for a 73.9 percent success rate, the best in school history, and he’s six shy of Chris Gardocki’s career record of 23 made from that distance.
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“I’m just blessed and feeling on top of the world right now,” Catanzaro said. “Fourteen in a row is pretty cool.”
As a redshirt freshman, he was far from on top of anything. After he beat out Parade All-American Richard Jackson for the starting role, he struggled through an inconsistent season.
Catanzaro (Clemson’s first freshman starting kicker since Aaron Hunt in 2000) made 14 of 22 attempts, but suffered crucial misses against Auburn, Florida State and Boston College. He missed a 32-yarder in overtime that clinched Auburn’s 27-24 victory on its way to an undefeated national championship season.
“It was a tough year for me, but I think every kicker goes through something similar,” said Catanzaro, who turned down a scholarship at Furman to walk on with the Tigers. “You miss one kick and feel like the world is on your shoulders. The thing I’m most proud of is that I made six of my last seven that year, and that kind of propelled me into my sophomore season and look what happened there. I used all that negativity as a positive and grew stronger from it.”
His resurgence began prior to the end of that freshman year as he booted a 29-yarder with 53 seconds left at Florida State to tie the game at 13 before the Seminoles won moments later on a 55-yard kick.
“It all goes back to that kick,” Catanzaro said of his success. “I’ve just kind of grown from that ever since and I’ve continued to get more and more confident. I worked my tail off at Clemson and it seemed that every opportunity that came my way, I was able to take advantage of. I have a lot of pride and have always believed in myself and had a lot of faith in what I do.”
Catanzaro’s self-belief was on full display last year when he missed a 30-yard attempt late against Wake Forest before kicking the 43-yard game-winner to send the Tigers to the ACC championship game.
“That was such a cool turn of events and my best memory,” Catanzaro said. “When I missed that first kick, it was as low as I’ve ever felt. On the second kick, I just had a sense of calm that I would make it and it was probably the best kick in terms of how it felt off my foot that I’ve had at Clemson.”
He finished the season 22 of 27 on field goals and was a second-team All-ACC selection and one of 20 semifinalists for the Lou Groza Award given to the nation’s best kicker. This season, he’s 6-of-6, including making both tries from at least 40 yards with a long of 46.
“It’s big when you’ve got a guy who is pretty much a guaranteed three points,” Swinney said. “Two years ago, he was dead last in the ACC, then last year he makes all-conference and now sets a school record. I’m really proud of his work ethic, his resolve and perseverance and his confidence. He just kept working and believing in himself.”