The most important – and most overlooked – point of last season came when Nick Cattoi booted a point-after kick that kept UCF four points ahead of Georgia in an eventual Liberty Bowl victory for the Knights.
In a moment that was emblematic of the season when it came to the kicking, the point-after was a wobbly, knuckling liner that cleared the crossbar by just inches. It was a success, but it made more than a few hearts skip a beat inside of Memphis’ Liberty Bowl Stadium that afternoon.
After enduring a rocky junior season, Cattoi is hoping to rid himself of such cliffhanger moments and shore up UCF’s kicking responsibilities. And if he can’t, there’s backup this time around to come to the rescue.
Heading into Saturday’s scrimmage and FanFest activities for UCF, the 6-foot-5, 224-pound Cattoi holds down the first-string kicking job. He’s had a solid training camp so far, even while being pushed by preferred walk-on Shawn Moffitt in training camp. Both kickers have been put in pressure situations at the end of practices and have been impressive with their accuracy so far, giving head coach George O’Leary some confidence in the position that was lacking last season.
“I wish it was game day because they are kicking it well right now,” O’Leary said following a practice earlier in the week. “They are making such good contact with the ball. You don’t have to see a good kick; you can hear it. I try to put them in situations where they have to make long field goals and short field goals. They’re both (Cattoi and Moffitt) hitting it pretty good.”
Cattoi worked hard this offseason to strengthen his leg and improve his accuracy following a 2010 season in which he made 11 of 19 field goals and 47 of 50 extra points. He split time with Jamie Boyle, who made all nine of his extra points, but missed on two field goal tries.
“Over the summer I really worked on field goals because I really want to have a great senior season. I’ve been working so hard on my mental state and not allowing anything to get to me,” said Cattoi, a Tampa native. “I feel like I’m hitting the ball really well right now. I’m very confident with my field goals and kickoffs and I was to take it into the start of the season.”
Cattoi’s confidence was tested last season as he was wildly inconsistent most of the season. He missed four field goals shorter than 40 yards, including one that was blocked. He also missed on four kicks from 40-plus yards. Distance was rarely an issue, but accuracy was a problem.
Cattoi did have a 29-yard field goal in the Conference USA title game against SMU and a 22-yard kick against Georgia in the Liberty Bowl to tie the game at 3-all. Latavius Murray scored on a 10-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter against Georgia and Cattoi’s unsightly extra point proved to be a big one because it put UCF up 10-6. Needing a touchdown instead of a tying field goal, Georgia came up short on two drives late in the game and UCF escaped with its first bowl victory in school history.
Cattoi admitted that last year’s struggles pushed him to work harder this past offseason so that he can become a weapon for the Knights this season.
“I wanted to help the team and respond from those lows,” Cattoi said. “You can’t be negative because that will just make things worse and hurt your season even more. I wanted to finish up the season right and help the team the best that I can.”
With its kicking spot up in the air, UCF recruited Moffitt, a standout kicker at Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando last season. He made 11 of 16 field goals and 97 of 98 extra points last season at Dr. Phillips. He made a 52-yard field goal last season and set the Florida state record for consecutive extra points with 130 in a row.
Both kickers have been especially impressive so far, hitting pressure kicks with a lot on the line. O’Leary likes to have his kickers end practice with 47-yard field goal attempts, and there’s plenty of peer pressure involved. If they make the kick, practice is over; if they miss, the team either continues to practice or runs sprints. So far, both kickers have been accurate in those situations.
Cattoi said the experience that he’s gained over the last two seasons – he was 14 of 20 on field goals in 2009 – has helped him learn to deal with the highs and lows that come with kicking. He said UCF’s fellow kickers, punters and snappers are always there for support as are his parents, Terry and Jean Cattoi.
“Once I’m back there kicking I have my same sequence and I just try to zone everything else out. In my head, I go through the tips and reminders of the things that I have been working on. I have to keep my eyes on the ball and nothing else,” he said. “The specialist group is always there for support and helping me with what’s going wrong when we’re watching film together. My parents have always been behind me since my freshman year and they’ve been to all of our games the past two years. It’s been great having their support there.”
Cattoi hopes that his struggles are a thing of the past and he feels that he’s primed for a solid senior season. His kicking leg is significantly stronger following an offseason of weight room work and it has been evidenced in his kickoffs and long field goals. In addition to being more accurate on his field goals, he wants to once again reach double digits in touchbacks as he did two seasons ago.
“It’s a tough experience sometimes, but you just have to get used to it. You have to learn how to block out all of the fans,” he said. “Since I’ve been kicking for three years at UCF now, it’s so nice having that experience. I’m used to what it takes to be successful and I think it’s going to be a great year.”