He’s already a social media legend, with trick shot field goals and field goals from 70 yards and more. That is why some fans of other schools may become annoyed, but when he puts on a performance for the Gators like he did Friday night in The Swamp, the Gator nation has to feel a whole lot better about the kicking situation.
Florida head coach Jim McElwian was glad to see what he saw. So were the estimated 46,000 in attendance Friday who gave one of the loudest cheers of the night when Pineiro made his first extra point after the first drive of the game.
“It was a little bit of a relief, even for us as a staff,” McElwain said after laughing about the crowd cheering the extra point. “Yet, we wanted to see how he would do in the stadium.”
McElwain put Pineiro to the test on Friday. He took shots of 46, 52, 52, 53, and 56 yards. He made three of the five extra-long field goals and even came back to make the longest after missing one.
“We got a chance to let Eddy go out there and kick a little bit and get used to what it’s going to be like,” McElwain said. “I was going to punt it on that one and he talked me into kicking it. I don’t know how far it was, but it was a long ways away. It was good to see that and yet I didn’t give him any chip shots by any means.
“I thought he answered the bell pretty darn good. You know as well… early in the game it was windy as heck, the wind was swirling down there. Most of his YouTube videos were in perfect weather, so it was good to see him have some wind in there.”
Pineiro became a Twitter and YouTube legend of sorts during and shortly after the recruiting process. Either he or the people around him would tweet his exploits.
Friday night was big for Pineiro. He was looking forward to kicking in front of a crowd and proving himself. The young man kicked in only six high school games and then didn’t play football in his one year at junior college. Understandable skepticism has been there, so performing well in front of the big crowd was a big thing.
“It felt good, everything I dreamed of,” Pineiro said of teeing it off in The Swamp. “It was exactly everything I dreamed of. It was a great opportunity.”
Hearing Pineiro talk, he just doesn’t feel the pressure of the kick. He’s just walking up there to kick a football and he just expects to make the shot. That is why when he missed, he asked to get back in and try a longer one.
“It was awesome, they put a lot of pressure on me, but being a kicker you have to learn how to deal with it,” Pineiro said. “In my opinion if you want to be a great kicker you have to be in the spotlight. I think I kicked (well) today, but pressure is a big thing.
He liked the crowd, but his approach to every kick was eye on the ball, foot hit the ball, follow through with the leg swing, and see what happens.
“The feeling was great,” he said. “Nothing different, to me it felt like it was a practice. There is pressure obviously, but I feel comfortable with Coach Mac. He trusts in me and I trust in him. It was a great opportunity to kick today.
“Kicking in front of people is a little pressuring, and I feel like I handled the pressure (well) today. I think I should have a good time when we play.”
That’s probably the key. Placekicker Austin Hardin moved on before the spring and will no longer be with the team. Hardin came to Florida with all of the accolade s a top kicker can have out of high school. He was an Under Armour All-American and can kick the ball out of the back of the end zone with a powerful leg.
But, Hardin let the misses get to him and as time went on, he had more misses than makes… many more. Hence the relief from McElwain when he saw that first shot from Pineiro go through the uprights Friday night, maybe even more so when he made the long shot after the miss.
“One thing about me is that I think I handle pressure really (well)” he said. “I played soccer all of my life and I don’t think people don’t understand that it is all about pressure. In the Swamp with Coach Mac, Coach Mac is a pretty pressuring guy, but he’s a great guy and makes me feel very comfortable.
“I didn’t let it get to my head (when he missed). Usually what happens a lot with kickers is when they miss they get down on themselves and just negative energy. I just keep it positive all the time. Make it or miss it, I am positive 100%. I just look at everything in a positive way and am just happy to be here.
McElwain looked like he was rolling out a new toy with all of the long field goal tries Friday.
“We joke about it sometimes,” Pineiro said of McElwain wondering what he’s capable of. “That 56 yarder, Coach asked me if I wanted to kick it, I said ‘put me in coach, put me out there. I’m ready. Put me in.’ He gave me that opportunity, I executed, and I appreciate everything he does for me. He’s a great guy.
Pineiro says he’s really comfortable hitting from 60-yards on a regular basis. Part of 13 new comers to the football team that arrived in January and has helped push the older guys already on campus, Being a kicker, he loves his team, he certainly loves his classmates, but he is in his own world.
“I think we’re trying to make a positive impact on our team,” he said of all of the January enrollees. “I don’t know too much about football, I just kick the football and it goes in. I can’t really tell you what kind of impact they’re making. I know what kind of impact I’m making. I think I’m making a pretty good impact making field goals.”
For McElwain and what seems all of Pineiro’s teammates, they enjoy his company.
“I really enjoy being around him,” McElwain said. “The team enjoys being around him. Even when he missed one he said, ‘I’m okay, I’ll come back and get the next one.’ It wasn’t doom and gloom there. Sure enough he came back and knocked one through and that was good to see.”
McElwain says his value won’t just be in kicking field goals. Hardin could regularly kick the ball deep in the end zone and it is easy for Pineiro to do that, but the young man showed he could sky kick to the end zone Friday night allowing his kickoff coverage unit to get down field and really cover the kickoff well.
“He has a lot to work to do, especially from a timing standpoint,” McElwain said. “But, even when you saw the kickoffs, we did a couple of things where we wanted to just kick it out, but our hang times were unbelievable when we wanted him to drop it on the goal line. For him to be able to do that, your kickoff team has an opportunity to create field position just form that. That kind of went unnoticed, but I thought he did a great job with that.”
Would he let Pineiro try some in the 60-70 yard range?
“We need to see how he keeps operating and get him into some conditions,” McElwain said as he hedged on that one. “I know he loves to kick. He was the one that begged me to kick the long one, and I said ‘Geez Louise, you might pull something’. But, he knocked it through and that was good to see.”
Pineiro will be in line to try the ling ones, the short ones, any distance. He just wants to kick the ball and at this point, he is doing it for his loved ones so that he can help them someday. He said when he is ready to kick, he thinks about his family and the people that have put in a lot of effort to get him where he’s at.
“My family… trying to take them out of the struggle, that is what came to my mind,” he said when he lined up for the first kick Friday. “My little brother, my sister, my parents taking me to camps and putting in the time, taking me to practice … being there for me. I just think about my family and my comfort zone is there… with my family.”
He also heard the loud cheers when he made that first extra point, and he understood. The Gator Nation is just looking for some relief in the kicking game after a year of real misery. The cheers were a great thing.
“It was a good feeling,” he said with a smile. “Knowing the kicking situation here, that’s why it was a great opportunity. I didn’t expect it to be that loud for an extra point, but positive energy is what I like… positive energy.”