University of Florida

UF kicker, Miami Sunset alum Eddy Pineiro ready to make debut

Former Miami Sunset soccer player Eddy Pineiro, right, has yet to kick in a live college football game, but he is is already being viewed as the answer to UF’s kicking woes.
Former Miami Sunset soccer player Eddy Pineiro, right, has yet to kick in a live college football game, but he is is already being viewed as the answer to UF’s kicking woes. cjuste@miamiherald.com

A quick search for “Eddy Pineiro” on YouTube shows the budding UF kicker’s talent.

Highlights of him landing kicks through the uprights from 60-, 65-, even 70-plus yards away.

But come next Saturday night, when 25th-ranked UF opens the 2016 season against UMass, Pineiro will be playing in front of a live crowd close to 90,000 people for the first time in a game that matters.

No do-overs. No repeats.

“There’s no way to simulate what it’s going to be like come game time,” UF coach Jim McElwain said. “He needs to learn to adapt to that and go out and kick.”

A former soccer standout at Miami Sunset High who transferred to UF from ASA Community College, Pineiro’s true experience with football is limited.

He played just seven games in high school and only handled kickoffs and extra points.

And yet he’s already being viewed as the savior for Florida’s kicking woes from the last three years. Since All-American kicker Caleb Sturgis’ final year with the Gators in 2012, Florida has made a paltry 60.3 percent (38 for 63) of its field-goal attempts and just 40 percent (8 of 20) from at least 40 yards away.

Pineiro has sought out advice from former UF kickers such as Sturgis and Judd Davis.

They echo the same message.

“Stay calm when you're going to kick and don't worry about the crowd,” Pineiro said the former kickers have told him. “Don't worry about the cameras and just know what you know how to do."

He did that in the Gators’ spring game in April, making three of his five field goal attempts that night, with each kick coming from at least 46 yards away.

"It was a good feeling,” said Pineiro, who is listed as a redshirt sophomore and has three years of football eligibility. “Knowing the kicking here and stuff, it was a good opportunity to be here. I didn't expect it to be loud, but it's positive energy."

And because McElwain can’t simulate the environment of a live night game during practice, the second-year UF head coach has had no problem creating as much chaos around his kicker as possible in other ways.

“He's been putting the whole team around me while I'm kicking my field goal,” Pineiro said. “[They’re] just screaming in my ear, throwing water in my face, trying to get me off-balance and stuff."

So far, he’s handled his own.

With each kick he attempts, Pineiro said his confidence grows. When he misses, it just adds fuel to the fire.

“It kind of motivates him, which is really good,” said punter Johnny Townsend, who also serves as the holder on field goals. ”If he misses a kick, he’ll immediately go and start to work on what he did wrong and how he can fix it. I think he’s going to thrive.”

When Pineiro had the opportunity to select his jersey after he transferred to UF, the kicker didn’t flinch at the chance to grab No. 15.

He knows the cherished history of the number, previously adorned by Heisman trophy winner Tim Tebow.

But that didn’t stop the confident Pineiro from making a statement before he attempted his first field goal in front of the UF fan base.

“I walk into the spring game and everybody has 15,” Pineiro said, “but it’s not for me. It’s for Tebow.”

Come next Saturday night, Pineiro will have his first real chance to give fans another reason to be excited about a player in No. 15.

“I don't want to sit here and put all these high expectations on him,” McElwain said. “I mean, the guy hasn't kicked in a game yet, right. And yet all of a sudden, we're ready to say this guy is the Golden Toe Award or whatever.

“At the same time, I do know this: He has the talent to do it, and I love the way he goes about his work.”

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