CONWAY — When Alex Catron would watch college and pro football games with his father while he was growing up in Florida, he’d often envision himself on the field in the key moments like many aspiring young players do. But he didn’t see himself as the guy making the big catch in the end zone or the one throwing the clutch pass at the end of the game.
No, as he put it, “We’d be watching an NFL game or a college game on TV, it would come down to the last kick and I’d be like, ‘Dad, I want to do that. I want to be the guy that makes the field goal.’”
And Saturday at Furman, he was that guy for Coastal Carolina.
After a wild fourth quarter in which the Chanticleers blew a 10-point lead in the final four minutes and found themselves trailing by three with 40 seconds remaining, the offense moved down the field in time to set up for a final 45-yard game-tying field goal attempt on a wet and soggy field that had been rained on most of the final quarter. On the sideline, Catron knew the stakes. Just like those games he recalls watching with his father, the outcome rested on his leg.
“The second [Furman] got the onside kick, drove down and scored on us, I just kind of went down to the net and was like ‘Alright, it’s my time. I’ve got to do this, I’ve got to do it for the team,’” he recalled.
With that, the sophomore first-year starter delivered one of the more memorable field goals in program history, sent the Chants to overtime where they pulled out a 47-45 win and solidified himself in a role that was as tenuous as any just a few short weeks ago.
The lanky kicker from Florida is now 5-of-6 on field goals already this season, perfect on seven extra point attempts and ranks third in the Big South Conference in scoring with 22 points through two games. And the Chants, meanwhile, seem to have found an answer, at least for now, to their kicking merry-go-round.
“We always knew the mechanical part and the athleticism was there,” said CCU assistant coach Mike Gallagher, who oversees the specialists. “His mental game has come on quite a bit. In the weight room, we can always increase this, increase that, but the mental part in football is where we have no real measurable and that’s one thing that’s [essential for] a kicker. And I think he showed it.”
Catron was with the Chants last year, but he was limited to a share of the kickoff duties and a handful of punts. He had found his way to Conway in a roundabout way after initially signing with the University of Charleston, a Division II program in West Virginia. The program there changed coaches and Catron didn’t feel there was enough communication from the new staff to the existing recruits and decided to look elsewhere. A kicking coach he had worked with growing up just happened to have a connection to former Coastal coach David Bennett, who invited Catron to watch the team’s spring game that year and ultimately offered him a scholarship.
But the primary placekicking duties last season would belong to Grant Clayton, who started strong before tiring down the stretch and finishing 9-of-16 on field goals. In the meanwhile, Catron focused on his kickoff form and bided his time. His opportunity would come soon enough as the Chants’ new coaching staff identified special teams as an area that needed to be improved and went about doing that by welcoming all challengers to compete for the specialist jobs.
“Coming into camp, coach Gallagher was telling us, ‘We’ve got six guys coming in.’ So our first day of camp, sure enough, we had like five or six kickers out there,” Catron said. “And especially like for home games now, we go out there and all the coaches on the other team are trying to get times and stuff, and they look over and they don’t know who to clock because we’ve got like six different specialists out there.”
Catron speaks of his appreciation for Clayton and the respect the offensive line and field goal unit has for the junior, but nonetheless, he said, “I told him I was coming for his spot and it was always going to be a competition.”
At its peak, Gallagher said the Chants’ kicking competition last month had eight guys and the depth chart was ever changing as the coaches clocked, documented and videotaped every kick while trying to find the one they trusted most.
“Every day was a competition, and we never knew where the depth chart was,” Catron said. “[Head coach Joe] Moglia would pop into our meetings and say, ‘It’s wide open guys. We’re not going to let you know who’s kicking until like the first week.’”
Gallagher says Catron’s statistical data “was speaking for itself,” and he was told the Monday before the season opener that the job was his – for now. Another quality they liked about the sophomore, was his ability to indentify his mistakes and make the necessary corrections, and that came into play Saturday night at Furman.
After making his first three field goals of the season, Catron missed a 44-yarder in the second quarter against the Paladins and had a quick conversation with Moglia on the sidelines. Moglia told him that his body had gone to the left during his follow through, pulling the ball that direction, and that he needed to finish with his hips through the ball and at the target. Catron refocused his mechanics on the sideline, followed with a 35-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter and then readied for his moment.
As for the weather, Moglia has had the specialists work outside in the rain over the last month even when the rest of the team practiced inside the covered hitting facility normally used by the baseball and softball teams. And as he sent Catron onto the field with five seconds left and the game on the line, he felt confident the first-year starter was ready for his first big test.
“We run certain elements of practice that we call critical downs where the game is on the line,” Moglia said. “So he’s had to make that very kick probably six or seven times in practice over the span of the last three or four weeks. He was prepared for it.”
Catron put the 45-yarder through the uprights and converted two more extra points in overtime before the Chants finally pulled out the victory. Back at home, his father and other family members were watching online and listening on the radio as the kicker came through in the big moment.
“They were listening to it and going crazy,” Catron said. “My sister went on Facebook and was like, ‘My dad’s about to have a heart attack. My brother’s doing so good in this game.’”
Indeed, so far, so good for the sophomore, and while the big kick Saturday certainly boosted his confidence – and helped him earn Big South special teams player of the week – it also helped him continue to settle in as the newcomer to the field goal unit, he said.
“The offensive line is starting to gain a little bit of trust in me,” Catron said. “They kicked with Grant last year, and I had a big spot to fill with that because he did a real good job for them. ... I think I’m starting to gain their trust a little bit.”
And perhaps also the trust of the Coastal fans who appreciate the role that clutch kick has played into the Chants’ encouraging 2-0 start.
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318.