GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida kicker, fan favorite, offensive MVP, Picasso of Place-kicking, etc., Eddy Pineiro has claimed twice in the last couple weeks that he didn’t know he was eligible for the NFL Draft until just recently.
“Somebody told me the other day I was draft eligible, so I might look into that,” he said a week and a half after being asked about it the first time by reporters.
It’s a bit unusual for a kicker with remaining collegiate eligibility — Pineiro is officially classified as a redshirt junior — to turn pro early, but then again, Pineiro doesn’t have many comparable peers.
He made Florida’s 36-7 win over UAB on Saturday the canvas for his masterpiece, becoming the first Gators kicker ever to make two 50-yard field goals in a game and the first to make 5 field goals since Arden Czyzewski in the Sugar Bowl to cap the 1991 season.
He’s now made 15 straight field goals since missing a 47-yard attempt in the season opener and has made 28 of his last 29 dating back to last season. His career conversion rate of 88 percent (37 of 42 over two seasons) is the best in the history of a program that has produced two NFL kickers in Jeff Chandler and Caleb Sturgis.
And his 94.1 percent rate for this season (16 of 17) may rank as the best in the country once the latest national stats are released (Utah State’s Dominik Eberle was the leader at 93.8 percent entering Saturday).
So if ever there was a reason to worry about a kicker leaving school early, it would be Steady Eddy.
He isn’t tipping his hand, though — at least not directly.
“Well, (I’ll evaluate it) probably the last game. You know, life throws curveballs at you. If I miss the next four field goals, well am I going to go pro? No. I’m going to come back. It just all depends,” Pineiro said. “Life throws curveballs at you all the time. I’m just focused on the next game.”
Pineiro was certainly focused Saturday.
He gave the Gators an early lift with four first-half field goals (from 39, 26, 50 and 50 yards), having already set a single-game personal high by that point. He added a 42-yarder in the fourth quarter.
Somehow, Pineiro had only five field goal attempts total between the Gators’ second and sixth games. Since then? He is a perfect 10-for-10 over the last three games.
“I felt good. Thank God I got some opportunities to kick. It was a blessing to get out there and do what I’m supposed to do — this is my job,” Pineiro said, later clarifying that he was fine with the team going for it on fourth down earlier in the season. “I’d rather get seven points than a field goal so I hope the team gets a touchdown to keep me off the field.”
That’s the thing. The Gators haven’t scored enough touchdowns the last two seasons while relying on Pineiro time and again.
The only major let-down, of course, was the missed extra point that would have tied the game against LSU — a game the Gators eventually lost 17-16 to start the 5-game losing streak that they finally snapped Saturday.
Then-head coach Jim McElwain noted that the snap/hold were off on that kick, but Pineiro has carried the weight of that miss nonetheless, intent on not letting it happen again — from any distance and in any situation.
“I feel like my whole mindset changed after I missed that extra point. I was like really down in my life. I’m like, I need to perform and do what I got to do. So I felt like that extra point I missed was the biggest blessing in my life, in my opinion,” he said Saturday night. “Just I felt like I had to be more concentrated. I’m only out there for literally 1.4 seconds every field goal or whatever. I just felt like I needed to concentrate more than I was. Kicking is 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical. If you’re right in the head, you’ll make every field goal if you believe it. That’s what I did — I believed.”
Pineiro is two field goals away from tying the program record for consecutive field goals made, set at 17 by Bobby Raymond in 1984. Pineiro already ranks third and tied for fifth on that list with separate streaks.
He wasn’t quite the same straight-shooter when asked about his future, but that’s understandable.
He was also asked if he feels he’s already left a strong legacy, whether he returns next season or not.
“I think so, I think I created something good. Hopefully the next kicker that comes in when I’m gone just kills it,” he said. “It’s an awesome feeling just going out there, and I’m never going to forget this. I’m having the best time of my life.”