GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida’s kicker impacted Saturday’s game and drew loud reactions from the crowd.
Fortunately for the Gators, fans weren’t booing and field goals didn’t cost them the game. That’s been the case the past three years, but Eddy Pineiro has changed that.
“That guy can really kick,” UF coach Jim McElwain said. “I’m so glad he’s here.”
Saturday was his first time ever attempting a field goal in a game, and the junior college transfer was automatic in the 24-7 win. He made all three of his kicks from 40, 49 and 48 yards.
But that’s not what Pineiro will remember most about his debut.
“Probably making my first field goal and them taking it away from me,” Pineiro said.
He hit a 28-yarder in the second quarter, but Florida accepted an offside penalty on UMass. Pineiro admitted he was nervous before that attempt.
“Whoever says they don’t get butterflies or any emotions are a complete liar,” Pineiro said. “It’s a good feeling, not a pressure feeling.”
Pineiro said playing in front of 88,121 people wasn’t harder than kicking around his teammates. When Pineiro attempts field goals in practice, Florida players scream, throw things at him and jump in his way.
“That’s more scary,” Pineiro said. “It’s more nerve-wrecking kicking in front of the team.”
One time he got Gatorade in his eye and shut it as he kicked. It was no problem for Pineiro, but could he make a field goal with both eyes closed?
Michael Jordan hit a free throw that way.
“Well,” Pineiro said, “I’m not Jordan.”
No, but he is college football’s most anticipated kicker since Sebastian Janikowski. Florida fans chanted “Eddy! Eddy!” twice during the game.
“It was a good feeling,” he said, “but I kind of blocked everything out.”
Pineiro proved worthy of the hype Saturday, but he hasn’t let it get to his head. His mind is on other things.
“I could care less about that,” Pineiro said of his popularity. “I’m just focused on making this team better and putting up points, something they didn’t do in the kicking game last year.”
The former soccer player has mastered field-goal kicking in short time, but he’s still new to the game of football. Pineiro forgot his mouthpiece in the locker room and didn’t know which direction he was kicking off following a score.
“He got a little confused, but we got him to the right side,” McElwain joked. “He did a pretty darn good job for us, and it’s good to have that piece. He’s a lot of fun to have on the team and be around.
“He told me going into the game, ‘Coach, in kicking it doesn’t matter who’s all there. It’s all about timing and rhythm. The environment doesn’t matter.’ That tells me he’s got the right mindset that makes up a good, competitive kicker.”
Pineiro was also successful on kickoffs. He hit one out of the end zone, another in the corner past the pylon and a few that pinned UMass deep in its own territory.
“He did a couple things in the kickoff game that I was probably as happy with,” McElwain said. “We wanted to see his hang time and force some guys to bring that ball out, and he did that. Landed it right down on that goal line area and we were able to get our coverage units down there and I think got them inside the 20 a couple times. I thought that was a real positive.”
Pineiro called his performance a dream come true after two years of working for that moment. Juggling both sports and eventually switching to football took it’s toll on Pineiro and his father, whom he embraced after the game.
“I saw my dad and broke down in tears,” Pineiro said. “My dad was always there for me, waking up at 5 o’clock in the morning to kick field goals. Then going to junior college soccer practice, and back to kick some field goals in the afternoon. So it was a great experience.”
Zach Abolverdi is the Florida beat writer for SEC Country and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.