The 2017 NFL Draft is set for Thursday, April 27th through Saturday, April 29th. As the stars of the college game get ready to find out where they will begin their NFL journey, CBS Local Sports’ “My Life As” series will give them an opportunity to talk about how they got to this point and what they expect from the future in their own words.
Today, we hear from Arizona State kicker Zane Gonzalez. Gonzalez holds the records for most field goals made in a career, most career field goal attempts, and was the 2016 Lou Groza Award winner which is presented to the nation’s top kicker.
I got started playing football in junior high. I had grown up playing soccer my whole life, but in junior high I was just trying to get involved in all the sports as much as I could just like any kid. I started out playing wide receiver and the coaches chose who would play kicker by seeing who could kid the ball the furthest and that was me. Plus, my brother was a kicker in high school so I got into it by watching him. Once I hit high school, my coaches continued to work with me on kicking and that’s when I started to take it more seriously.
It was right around my sophomore year in high school when it really hit me that I could make a career out of this.
I saw more of a future with football than I did soccer because there aren’t many D-I soccer programs in Texas. By that point, I was also a little burnt out with soccer because I had been playing my whole life and practicing all the time during the week. Kicking was something that I was good at and I enjoyed it and it gave me a chance to still compete in another sport that had a completely different atmosphere than soccer. I love both sports, but football has taken me much further than soccer and I have no regrets about my decision to follow this path.
There are plenty of reasons that I chose to go to Arizona State for my college career, but just to name a few: there’s great weather in Tempe, Arizona State is a great school and I had the opportunity to kick a lot of field goals because in the Pac-12 conference, teams put up a lot of points. I just saw a great opportunity and it made for a pretty easy decision on my part.
The memory that sticks out the most from my time here at Arizona State is probably when I made my first field goal. I remember my very first game against Sacramento State, making that first field goal of my college career. I was like a little kid, all excited about it. It’s always been fun to be out there being on the big stage and playing on TV with friends and family watching back home. I have so many memories from my four years at Arizona State, there was a game-winning field goal against Utah my sophomore year, breaking the record for most field goals in a career this past year. There’s a lot of different memories that go into four years of kicking and it’s crazy to look back on now.
Since finishing up at Arizona State, I had the opportunity to go to the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. That was a busy, long week. I got into Indy on Monday afternoon and left on Friday night. There was psychological testing, kicking, participating in the different drills, and going through the interview process with the coaches, it’s definitely busy and while you’re there, you want nothing more than to just lay down at the end of the day. But, looking back on it, you wouldn’t change the experience for anything. Just being able to say that you were at the combine, that you were invited to the combine, is pretty cool because there’s a lot of people that wish they could have gotten that invite.
I feel like I did pretty well during the interview process at the combine thanks to the help that I got from ASU and my agent in prepping me for what to expect. It’s definitely something different from any other experience I’ve had, but at the end of the day it is a job interview. The teams are just trying to get to know you a lot better on a personal and professional level.
To get ready for the combine and my pro day I worked out with some of the other guys that are entering the draft from ASU. Our strength coach there had us on a training regimen where we were doing full body workouts three days a week along with running and other drills on three other days, basically a six day regimen with one day off. I would kick two or three times a week as well. I trained like pretty much any other guy with modifications to target the specific muscle groups that we use the most, so working on quads, hamstrings, etc.
The on-field workouts obviously differ from that of a quarterback or wide receiver or a running back, but it’s the same sort of mindset. You go out with the mindset of what specific area of the game are you going to work on? Is it going to be directional kick-offs, field goals, or accuracy? Then, once you know your focus area, it’s about limiting your reps.
The big thing for kickers is not over-kicking, so you want to go out with a specific number of balls to full-on kick after you’ve warmed up. It’s important to stick to that number because if you don’t, it can carry over to the next workout and leave you dead-legged.
I’m not picky about when/where I get drafted. For a kicker to be drafted at all is a pretty big accomplishment so I’m just looking forward to finding out where I’m going to be and what the next step is for me in my career. The guy that I have tried to model my game after is Ravens kicker Justin Tucker. If you look at what he’s done over the past several years, it’s incredible. I would love to get the chance to meet him at some point to pick his brain a little bit about how to handle different situations at the NFL level. I’ve watched a lot of film on him and his style and I try to be as much like him as I can be.