FORT PAYNE, Ala. — Incoming Florida freshman Evan McPherson has the challenge of following, statistically speaking, the most successful kicker in program history while looking to take over for Eddy Pineiro in the fall.
“I’m sure it will make it a little tougher, but it’s really motivation, I think,” McPherson said.
McPherson knows the expectations. He also knows Florida’s history of standout specialists, and with that in mind, he chose his jersey number strategically.
Coach Dan Mullen gave McPherson seven options to choose from, and he settled on No. 19, which was most recently worn by Florida punter and fifth-round NFL draft pick Johnny Townsend and also was previously the number worn by former Gators kicking great Caleb Sturgis.
“I’m going be No. 19 in the fall so I’m really carrying on that tradition of Caleb Sturgis and Johnny Townsend,” McPherson said last week during a visit in his hometown. “Roberto Aguayo wore it when he was in college [at Florida State], most accurate kicker in college football history. So I feel like I’m going to carry on that number and hopefully wear it good for all of them.”
McPherson is the No. 1 kicker in the 2018 recruiting class, according to the 247Sports composite rankings. He initially committed to Mullen and his staff at Mississippi State before flipping to Florida after Mullen was hired in Gainesville.
He was a five-year starter for his high school team, debuting as Fort Payne’s kicker as an eighth grader, all the while making a name for himself at the regional and national kicking camps to earn that top prospect ranking.
McPherson made a 60-yard field goal in a game last season and has shown even further range in practice, but he’ll be replacing a third-team AP All-American who not only had a booming leg but also finished as the most consistent kicker in program history.
Pineiro finished his two seasons at Florida with an 88.4 percent (38 of 43) success rate on field goals while making 29 of his final 30 attempts. He led the country in field-goal percentage this past fall at 94.4 percent (17 of 18).
McPherson, meanwhile, has been pursuing this goal since his older brother Logan McPherson first made a name for himself at Fort Payne as a kicker/punter before going on to punt at Louisiana Tech from 2013-16.
His older brother was his initial inspiration, but McPherson has studied other successful practitioners of the craft, such as Sturgis (who kicked at Florida from 2008-12 before going on to the NFL) during his development.
“He’d be home on his computer watching other kickers that preceded him, Caleb Sturgis and those guys. He’d be watching them on video, learning techniques or steps or plant foot. He’s a student of the sport, of kicking,” said LaDon McPherson, Evan’s father.
“He definitely has some role models he’s been watching, following,” his mother Amber McPherson said.
Added his father, “Now he’s ready to be a role model for other guys.”
Join us for a live chat with Florida kicker signee Evan McPherson, who will look to replace Eddy Pineiro in the fall. Send in questions.
Posted by Florida Gators – SEC Country on Thursday, May 3, 2018
The following is part of SEC Country’s “Recruiting Rewind” series looking back on the recruiting process with Florida’s 2018 signees. Also look for the upcoming “Next Generation” series, which goes in-depth on the Gators’ incoming freshmen.
Q: How do you look back on the recruiting process? Was it fun, stressful?
McPherson: “It was really fun for me just to get all that attention, and people really, I don’t want to say they treat you special, but the recruiting process is really fun. I had a really good time, just talking to everybody, getting to know a lot of people from different areas. It’s kind of like you know people that you didn’t think you knew. … [But] by the end of it you’re ready to get it over with.”
Q: Who was the nicest coach you dealt with during the process?
McPherson: “I’d have to say Coach Mullen, but all of them were really nice. Really nice. … And Chris Boniol, [special teams advisor at Mississippi State]. That was a hard phone call to tell him whenever I de-committed from State because I really liked him. He’s been a college kicker, he went to the league to kick [most notably with the Dallas Cowboys]. So I thought I was going to learn from him, he’s going to tell me what I need to do. I grew really close with him, so just to tell him that I’m de-committing to go to Florida, that was hard. Other than that, I didn’t really grow any closer relationships other than Mississippi State and Florida.”
Q: How did he take the news that you were signing with Florida?
McPherson: “I mean, obviously he’s going to try to be happy for me, but at the same time he was upset. But he understood. The big thing was obviously I wanted to be coached by him and if I stayed with Mississippi State, there’s a bigger chance of him leaving than me going to Florida and Coach Mullen leaving. So if I went to Mississippi State [and he left] I’d have nobody that I really knew because Coach Mullen pretty much brought everybody.”
LaDon McPherson, Evan’s father: “But you look at the situation too, how many head coaches are that engaged in a kicker? You know what I’m saying, he’s not a running back or quarterback. For Mullen to fly up here, the week he landed in Gainesville he flew up here that Friday and showed him that appreciation.”
McPherson: “That’s a really big statement for me. Just whenever I get to campus, he’ll be there for me if I need something.”
Q: Who was the funniest coach you encountered during recruiting?
McPherson: “[Florida offensive line coach John] Hevesy’s pretty funny. Just during practice, during special teams period, he likes to yell and get in the kicker’s face because he’s [the] O-line [coach] and O-line is [out there] for the PAT and field goals.”
Q: What’s the most interesting thing a school did to get your attention?
McPherson: “Mississippi State sent me a picture. They have guys during the game with their shirts off, they have paint on their chest. It spells out something. So they sent me one and it said, ‘We want Evan.’ That was pretty funny. I thought that was a funny one.”
Q: In the end, who was your runner-up?
McPherson: “Mississippi State. It wasn’t really that hard of a decision.”
LaDon McPherson: “Because of the coaching staff turnover. The only person left at State was Boniol, because they fired [the rest]. We didn’t know who was going to stay. But here we were, we were so engaged in it, we went to every home game, every home game this past fall. We knew the campus, we knew where to park, we knew where to go. It was a ritual, so to speak.”
Amber McPherson, Evan’s mother: “We’re standing outside for the ‘Dawg Walk’ and just a fan turns around and goes, ‘Are you Evan McPherson?’ So even the fans were starting to already knew who he was because he had been there, they’d been talking about him, they’d done articles on him.”
LaDon McPherson: “If you go to every game, you’re buying into that program. We were behind the scenes, we were seeing Megan [Mullen] after every game. Megan comes and talks to us. It’s a close connection. They may do it to every other recruit too, but they’re doing a dang good job. They did it to us and we felt special.”
Q: What school would have had a better chance with you if it had gotten involved earlier?
McPherson: “Probably, I would say if Alabama or Auburn came in. I know Alabama tried to come in, but their message to me was, ‘We want you as a punter.’ I pretty much told them, ‘I want to kick in college. I don’t really want to punt.’ … But those two schools, other than that not really because I had my mind on Mississippi State.”
Q: Were you surprised there wasn’t more interest from the in-state schools?
McPherson: “I was a little surprised because in Alabama there’s like this [buzz], everybody was saying, ‘Alabama or Auburn is missing out on this in-state guy.’ I won Alabama’s camp, but Coach Saban was in his office making an offer to Brandon Ruiz that de-committed. I really think that if Joseph Bulovas went to Mississippi State [instead of joining Alabama’s 2017 signing class] I would have had a better chance at Bama, but it wasn’t the right place, I guess.”
LaDon McPherson: “Florida was the right place.”
Q: If you could give advice to a high school junior just starting to go through the recruiting process, what would it be?
McPherson: “Just be patient with it. It’s fun. It gets crazy, but for the most part you’re getting a bunch of attention and you’ve just got to really know how to control it and not get the big head and just think you’re everything. You’ve just got to humble yourself and have fun with it. You don’t get to do it forever. You get to do it one time.”
Q: Lastly, if you had sway with the NCAA, what would you change about the way recruiting works?
McPherson: “I think a coach should be able to talk to a player whenever he wants, wherever, whenever. They do lock that down a lot. If they opened it up more, it would help a coach build a relationship. They have these quiet periods, which I guess it does give the coach time off, but limiting a coach to talk to a player is kind of weird for me.”