As Todd Graham gets his Arizona State football team ready for tonight’s Pac-12 skirmish with the Colorado Buffaloes, it has to be incredibly reassuring to the head coach to know one of the most dependable arrows in his quiver is the nation’s top kicker.
But Zane Gonzalez is more than just a kicker. He’s a scorer. Actually, he’s a scoring machine.
The senior, who is so automatic that his teammates began calling him “Legatron”, has missed just once in his 17 field-goal attempts this season – and that one miss was from 53 yards away. Those 16 conversions included two from 54 yards out and another from 53. From anywhere on his end of the field he has been deadly, making 13-for-13 from inside 49 yards.
The 54-yard conversions are just one yard short of the ASU school record of 55 yards, set by Luis Zendejas in 1982.
In last week’s game, a 23-20 win over UCLA, Gonzalez put a 46-yard kick through the uprights with 12:28 left in the game to become the NCAA career leader in field goals among FBS teams with 89.
He also scored from 35 and 23 yards out and added a pair of extra points, which earned him the Pac-12 Special Team’s Player of the Week, the fifth time he’s won the award and the third time this season.
Gonzalez already holds the additional distinction of being the Pac-12 career scoring leader, a mark he set in a game against Texas-San Antonio (UTSA) last month.
And he came into the 2016 season as the NCAA active leader in field goals per game with 1.87.
This has been a record-setting year for the 6’1″, 195-pound former soccer player, which has raised his profile nationally. But the Texas native began showing promise at Deer Park High School. His junior year he connected on 16 of 18 FG attempts and didn’t miss a single PAT try. His senior year, he went 10-for-10 on field-goal kicks and again was perfect on PATs.
Little has changed in that PAT consistency to this day. He’s made 24 of his 25 point-after attempts this season.
As a freshman at ASU, he converted 83 percent of his FG tries and broke the school record for points by a kicker in a season with 138. He missed just five of 27 FG attempts as a sophomore and went 14-of-15 his junior year.
But what is often overlooked with kickers is the accumulation of points they contribute. Gonzalez finished with 130 points last year and is making a significant contribution to the scoring this year, with 72 points so far. He scored 12 points in back-to-back games against Texas Tech and UTSA, and then pitched in with 14 points the next week against California. His 11 points against UCLA last week proved to be the difference in the Sun Devil win.
He came into the 2016 season as the NCAA active leader in scoring at 9.9 points per game and now has 458 career points, just eight off the NCAA record.
And that’s the final area of unfinished business for Gonzalez. At the rate he’s scoring this season, he has a chance to break the career scoring record for all positions, which is 530 points. That distinction, understandably, belongs to a quarterback, Navy’s Keenan Robinson.
Who knows…maybe he’ll also get a shot at that 55-yard mark that was set by another ASU kicker 34 years ago. He has at least five games, maybe a couple more depending on what happens in the post-season, to add that record to his resume when he begins looking for a job with an NFL team.
That quest begins tonight in Boulder. The Sun Devils (5-1, 2-1) are in a three-way tie with Colorado (4-2, 2-1) and Utah (5-1, 2-1) at the top of the Pac-12 South Division
ASU has beaten the Buffaloes in each of their seven meetings. But the leg of Zane Gonzalez could prove to be the margin of victory if they are to continue that streak tonight.