There are dozens of decisions, quotes and philosophies from the Dan Hawkins era in Boulder that could be offered as evidence the former coach of the Colorado football program was in over his head.
The way Hawkins handled true freshman place-kicker Justin Castor last fall would have to be close to the top of the list. And now that Hawkins has been replaced with more competent coaches, Castor is free to share his thoughts on the subject.
First, a refresher.
The Buffs entered last fall on shaky ground in the place-kicking department. Senior Aric Goodman had endured a subpar junior year and the expectation was that he would be quickly replaced by Castor, if his accuracy problems continued.
Goodman missed a first-half field goal at Missouri on Oct. 9 and Hawkins finally turned to Castor the next time CU moved into field goal position. Castor trotted on the field for a 40-yard attempt in the second quarter. The snap was bad, Castor's heart was racing being on the field for the first time in his career and he kicked the ball low into the line.
He never got another chance the rest of the season. Hawkins allowed him to kickoff several times, possibly to give himself some cover for having burned Castor's redshirt season on a single play.
"It was pretty defeating," Castor said. "All the way up through recruiting they tell you a lot of different things and you get promised a lot of different stuff and more than one shot was one of them. I didn't get that.
"It was confusing, but with the new staff it's kind of been a block that I've been able to get over now. It definitely was a struggle there for awhile."
Castor said he never received an explanation from coaches for why he wasn't given an opportunity to redeem himself and show he could make field goals. The decision to leave Castor on the bench flew in the face of all Hawkins' self-help reading and feel-good philosophies espoused throughout his tenure.
"The old staff, like I said, they were full of a lot of things that they didn't keep promises on," Castor said. "They told us how they wanted to limit our kicks and everything. On average in most peoples' minds you should kick probably 20-25 balls a day, and they should be quality kicks. We were kicking 60 balls a day under the old staff and after the first two or three days of camp, my second day I could hardly walk."
Castor and new special teams coach J.D Brookhart agree that he started slowly this spring. Part of it was due to inconsistency from a new snapper and holder, but part of it was his confidence needing to be rebuilt. Castor has made progress over the past month and has given the new coaching staff hope that he might be capable of winning the job in the fall. At worst, he will provide solid competition for incoming freshman Will Oliver.
"He's got talent," Brookhart said. "He's got a chance to be a really, really good kicker. We're trying to get him into the consistent habits he needs to be in. Today he miss hit and made a 52-yard field goal. So his potential is exciting."
Castor isn't the only kicker on the roster this spring who is trying to reclaim some confidence. Punter Zach Grossnickle is the first to admit he didn't have the greatest season as a redshirt freshman last fall.
He averaged 39.47 yards on 60 punts. He had two punts of 50 yards of more and 11 inside the 20-yard line. Grossnickle also says he was over-kicked by the former coaching staff in practices.
"When the new staff came in, we told them we got over kicked a little bit and they definitely heard that and have been helping us out with our legs."
But Grossnickle has remained inconsistent this spring. Coaches have asked him to do much less rugby style kicking, though it will still be used in the future against strong wind or a fierce rush. The new staff has emphasized traditional punting and aiming kicks.
Spring winds that are customary in Boulder, haven't helped Grossnickle's cause so far.
"From a punting standpoint, I have been disappointed," Brookhart said. "It's been windy every day, and we have to be able to have some consistency with the wind and we have not shown that. We've got a long way to go in the punting department."
Grossnickle says his focus this spring has been to correct small errors in his technique. He is working with former Wisconsin punter Ken DeBauche and former CU punters Mark Mariscal and John Torp have both reached out to offer their help.
"It's really nice. It's a nice support group," Grossnickle said. "I know little things that I can help from them, especially because they know how to handle the CU wind."