Kicking His Way In

Donnie Carona's career at Tech has taken an interesting path,Carona reflects on the highs and lows.

A college kicker can be either the most loved or most hated player on a team any given week. Alex Trilica spent four years as one of the most beloved kickers in Texas Tech history.

Some people gave up on Donnie Carona after two kicks.

Trilica holds six records for Texas Tech and one NCAA record that may never be broken. He made 166 consecutive extra points. Carona's streak ended at one.

After his first missed extra point, the criticism seemed to pile on week after week until Carona failed for the fourth time on the year to make an extra point in overtime against Nebraska in 2008.

His kicking career seemed to be over. Two weeks later, Tech found a new kicker in Matt Williams who turned into one of the stories of the year for the Red Raiders.

Williams came off the street to go 9-9 on extra points in Tech's route of Kansas and was named the Big 12 special teams player of the week.

After that, it seemed Carona might never get another chance to be Tech's kicker. Williams was a sophomore and never seemed to miss and Mike Leach didn't kick field goals.

Three years passed, and then this spring, Carona got another chance.

Coach Tommy Tuberville said Carona improved dramatically over the offseason and they thought he could still be an effective kicker.

"Donnie's a gamer," he said. "He's going to be big for us down the stretch."

He certainly has been effective this year. In the A&M game, Carona kicked four field goals, which was the most in a single game since Chris Birkholz in 1998.

He is also currently on pace to break the Tech record for most field goals in a single season since the creation of the Big 12, also held by Birkholz.

Something changed for him. Whether it was the confidence of his teammates and the coaching staff or some sort of Zen transformation, he is making kicks at a significantly improved rate.

Carona said his mindset has changed as the difference between his freshman year and his senior year has shown up repeatedly and it all comes from his new confidence.

"I worked real hard this past spring and summer and I knew it was my spot to lose," he said. "It's a mental thing, but it's also just taking it slow and knowing I can do it."

The team has needed him to do it. Tuberville does not come from the Mike Leach school of thought, which states roughly: if you don't score a touchdown, you're not a man.

Tuberville believes in taking points as often as you can in any way you can get them, and when someone thinks like that, they need a good field goal kicker. Carona has stepped up and become that kicker.

And in a year when the Red Raiders are struggling with tackling, it is always beneficial to have a kicker who likes to go out and punch someone in the mouth, figuratively speaking, of course.

Carona said he has fun when he hits people and he does his best to truly be the safety of the kicking team.

"I don't enjoy it when they get to me, but I try to get them at least around the 30," he said. "I played a little linebacker back in high school so I'm kind of used to it."

It is very rare when a kicker can truly be a stopper on the defense.

For every Shane Lechler and Daniel Sepulveda, there are kickers like Sebastian Janikowski who outweigh their offensive lineman and move even slower.

Carona dishes out punishment. He will kick a 40 yard field goal and on the ensuing kick-off give a player a concussion. He has led the team in tackles in several games over his career and may do it again later this year.

With Tech's season almost over and three bowl-bound teams left on the schedule, Tech is going to need to score.

Having a kicker like Carona takes pressure off the offense when they know they only have to get to the 30-yard line to get points.

Carona's career at Tech is coming to a close and he has experienced all the highs and lows a player can deal with.  

But with Senior Day on Saturday, Carona said he enjoyed his entire time here, and not just the good parts.

"I can remember my recruiting trip. I can remember getting here for the first day," he said. "I met Seth my first day. I thought he was like 22 years older than I was. But it's definitely flown by, but it's been fun. And coming to realize that I've enjoyed it is definitely making it better on and off the field."


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