TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) Chandler Catanzaro and his powerful, accurate leg are a big part of the Arizona Cardinals’ 6-1 start to the season.
Nicknamed `Cat Man’ by his coach at Clemson, Dabo Swinney, Catanzaro signed with the Cardinals as an undrafted rookie free agent, receiving a whopping $1,500 signing bonus, then beat out veteran Jay Feely for the kicking job.
He hasn’t missed since. With his 28-yarder in Arizona’s 24-20 win over Philadelphia last Sunday, Catanzaro is 16-for-16, a record for a rookie to start his season. He is one behind Kai Forbath’s NFL record for consecutive field goals to begin his career. Forbath did it over two seasons.
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And Catanzaro’s kickoffs have been equally impressive, especially considering he didn’t kick off at Clemson, where he was a freshman walk on who went on to become the school’s career scoring leader.
No one this season has returned his kickoffs farther than the 22-yard line.
Catanzaro always felt he could do big things.
”I was sitting in coach Swinney’s office and he was telling me he was going to give me a preferred walk-on shot,” he said. ”I said that’s all I need. I’m going to break records. I’m not coming to be just another kicker. I’ve kind of had the same mentality here. Just why not? Why not me? Just give me a shot, put me out there and let me do my thing.”
His success is rooted in a painful failure. It came during his freshman season.
”I had a kick down at Auburn to tie the game in overtime and send it to a second overtime,” he recalled. ”I made the kick, then a snap infraction backed it up five yards. It still was a chip shot. I missed it wide left. Cam Newton and Auburn go on to win the national championship that year. It was a huge disappointment.”
Catanzaro did not let the miss ruin his aspirations.
”It’s made me strong as a man more importantly than a kicker,” he said, ”but it’s made me stronger as a kicker as well. I’ve learned resiliency, persistence, perseverance, those qualities. So I’m just sticking to it. I know I can’t get too high or too low. As a kicker, that can kill you, complacency can kill you. I’m staying away from that and staying grounded. I just continue to work hard and do my thing.”
The summer after his freshman year, he began working with Morten Andersen, who kicked in the NFL for 25 seasons.
”I’ve worked with him every year since and he’s just great,” Catanzaro said. ”He’s a future Hall of Famer, the all-time NFL points leader. He’s been through it all. He’s been through the highs and lows of kicking and he’s dealt with all of those and he’s risen above them. It’s great to have him, just to have a mentor who’s a great man, a great guy. I love talking to him.”
Cardinals special teams coordinator Amos Jones held a coaching clinic at Clemson in 2010 and got his first look at Catanzaro. He’s kept an eye on him since, working him out privately during the past offseason.
He noticed the same thing those who watched Catanzaro in training camp noticed, a distinct, powerful sound when he makes contact with the ball.
”Oh yeah, there’s a pop to it,” Jones said. ”I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve had a lot of great kickers and all of them had that unique quality, that characteristic when you could hear it pop off the ground.”
Jones said he worked out seven kickers and Catanzaro was always at the top of his list.
The Cardinals weren’t going to draft a kicker, so Jones sweated it out hoping that no one else selected him either.
Catanzaro missed two field goals the final two years at Clemson. He tries to forget all outside influences when he takes the field.
”All I’m thinking is trust it,” he said. ”`Rip it through’ is how I put it. Just making sure that I pull the trigger every time. I don’t want to hold anything back. That just kind of helps me. My body takes over and does what it knows how to do.”
Someday, of course, Catanzaro will miss one.
”We all hope it won’t happen in a critical moment, but we all are braced for it,” Jones said. ”But I know this, mentally I don’t think it will affect him. It’s going to be fun to watch how long it is before it happens.”
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