Matt Nakatani knew he could handle the placekicking duties for the University of Louisville football team last week.
But the redshirt freshman from Shelby County High School still had to prove it, earning his first start against Missouri State. John Wallace, who handled the duties against Kentucky, suffered a minor injury.
"I knew I was ready to go," Nakatani said. "I just had to go do it."
And the son of veteran thoroughbred racing jockey Corey Nakatani did just that, kicking two field goals – including a 45-yarder – and booting home three extra points during a 35-7 win over Missouri State.
"I'd expect him not to flinch," special teams coach Kenny Carter said. "Matt did a heck of a job. We didn't hesitate. We knew what he could do.
"John has a stronger leg, but Matt is so accurate. Success is a by-product of technique and execution and that's what they focused on and that's why they have been so successful. I am really proud of them."
The 5-foot-8, 160-pound Nakatani, who is second in Kentucky high school history books with 14 consecutive made field goals, has always been the accurate kicker of the U of L group.
Nakatani and Wallace battled all throughout the offseason and preseason camp. Carter said Nakatani "really tried to improve" and helped his cause.
"He got with his coach outside of his program, and all kickers have that kind of guy, and he really did a great job," Carter said. "It was really a great focus time for him and he did a good job in the weight room.
"When he got back here and those guys all got together and they just competed against each other and it's just been really good."
Nakatani said he wasn't discouraged when Wallace got the opening-game start because Carter made it clear that could change any day.
On Saturday, Nakatani had his number called.
"Coach Carter came to me on Tuesday said, ‘Be ready to play'," Nakatani said. "I had a great week actually, only missed a couple kicks."
Nakatani started with an easy 19-yard field goal and then added a pair of extra points. He booted a 45-yard field goal that U of L head coach Charlie Strong said he wondered if the staff was making the right call.
"Kenny Carter said, ‘He can make it'," Strong said. "I asked if he was sure because in practice he hasn't been making it from that far, but I said, ‘Let's go ahead and put him in there and kick it'. He did a nice job."
Nakatani said he was exited to get the first game out of the way and noted he received a lot of high fives and hugs, especially after the long field goal.
"I made my kicks all week and got to start," Nakatani said. "I really just relied on going back to my high school days, went through the same (routine). It's been back and forth (with Wallace) all summer and in the preseason.
"It's fun competing. This was just my week."