Sunday, December 10, 2017
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Fennelly: Bucs' Roberto Aguayo has his backers, no matter how many kicks he misses

He was perfect Friday, and not just because he didn't have to kick.

Roberto Aguayo, the right leg in question, split the uprights every time as he worked the fence line after the first practice at Bucs training camp. He signed for fans, posed for selfies, signed some more. Good guy.

Michael Donaldson of Tampa smiled and handed Aguayo his hat for an autograph.

"They picked you in the second round — you've got to get your head right," Donaldson said, trying to be supportive.

There were a lot of words last season as Aguayo melted. He heard some of them.

"That's the sport," he said. "That's the life."

He went from fabulous Florida State career to stark reality – an NFL-worst nine missed field goals, just 4-of-10 from between 40 and 49 yards, and two missed extra points. Bucs fans cringed at times when he ran out there. His teammates might have cringed, too. The word "bust" ended up in the same sentence with Aguayo. A lot.

His coach and GM cringed enough to hire veteran kicker Nick Folk. Dirk Koetter has a potential playoff team. He isn't about to risk losing it in the name of pride, that the Bucs bet on Aguayo in the second round of last year's draft. All bets are off. I think Aguayo is going to have to seriously outperform Folk in the preseason to keep his job.

"The road to success is always under construction. Look at a construction site," Aguayo said. He looked at a construction site: the indoor facility going up next to the Bucs' practice fields. "You got people up there, people inside. Everybody has a specific job to get done. When we're called upon, we have to get it done."

Safety tip: Wear your hard hat.

He said, "It wasn't always easy last season. It wasn't all flowers and daisies. But you find out who you are, you find yourself when you're down on the lows. It definitely was a real tester. I grew up at Florida State. Everyone loved me. There was hardly ever criticism. This is the job I want. I'm blessed to be here. God put me here.

"You've got times when everything is rolling well," Aguayo said. "And you've got times when you're not going to be hitting it well. It was mainly just overthinking it on the field. That's the problem, trying to be a perfectionist. You've got to wrap your head around it."

We'll all overthink every time Aguayo trots onto the field at camp, to say nothing of these preseason games. None of this would be happening if he hadn't been a second-round pick. He'd already be stuffed in a car trunk, NFL-wise.

Aguayo says he is doing great. He got married a few weeks ago in Tallahassee, to his college sweetheart, Courtney Byrd. They honeymooned in Maui.

"I feel awesome," he said. "I feel like I'm back at Pop Warner football. I love it. … I've been competing all my life. At Florida State, they were always bringing someone in, bringing walk-ons through."

Aguayo was the only kicker in Bucs camp last season. Nick Folk isn't a walk-on. Aguayo knows that. It's part of the construction site. You're somewhere in there, behind those girders, lost at times. But suddenly the call comes and you're on the highest beams. And everyone is watching.

"It doesn't really change the game," Aguayo said. "I have to go out here and do what I've got to do. My biggest competition is myself. I know what I'm capable of and what I can do. When I'm on, I can nail everything. It's a matter of getting there. I'm feeling good. I'm feeling confident. Just taking it back to Little League, when it's fun to go out there and have fun with your friends.

Aguayo has a new friend in Michael Donaldson, who smiled as Aguayo walked away.

"I like him," Donaldson said. "Because he never gave up no matter how many times he missed."

No matter how many times.

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Contact Martin Fennelly at mfennelly@tampabay.com or 813-731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly.

     
 
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