Coming into Colorado as a freshman and the only place kicker on scholarship, Cole Becker felt a measure of pressure last fall.
When head coach Karl Dorrell called him the “Iceman” one day after practice, before Becker had ever played a game with the Buffs, that heaped another load of pressure on him.
Struggling to live up to that nickname with a 0-for-3 start to his career put even more pressure on him.
Despite the pressure-packed start, Becker settled in, put together an impressive freshman season and now enters his sophomore year with confidence.
“I’ve gotten better at dealing with pressure, but the pressure is always there and it’s mostly because of me,” he said. “I want to be perfect. I don’t want to let my team down. You never want to miss that kick and it’s like, ‘Oh, that one was the reason we just lost.’ It’s definitely always in the back of my mind, but you just try and push that to the back and then let the confidence (take over) in knowing that you take practice reps and you’ve done it before and you can do it.”
Highly regarded coming out of Rocklin (Calif.) High School last year, Becker was nearly flawless in fall camp, leading to Dorrell’s comment.
Becker’s first attempt was a 53-yarder that fell short. His second was a 46-yarder that sailed wide right. And, his third was a 46-yarder at Arizona State that was blocked because, he said, he was slow with his operation.
“It was a rough start,” he said. “And it was kind of eye opening because it was like, ‘OK, you’re gonna make mistakes in college. You can’t be 100% perfect, which is how I was expecting myself to be.”
As disappointing as it was, the 0-for-3 start might have been a blessing for Becker. About 12 minutes after his third miss, Becker drilled a 51-yarder just before halftime at ASU. That began a string of six consecutive made field goals. He finished the year 14-for-20, making 14 of his final 17 attempts (he was also 25-for-25 on extra points).
“I think (the tough start) almost kind of calmed me down because there’s nowhere to go from here but up,” he said. “I actually talked to one former college and one NFL kicker. They said struggling early in your career is better than struggling late because you learn a lot more from your struggles.
“Bouncing back in that Arizona State game after the block, I made one, made another one and then just got that boat rolling,” he said. “It’s like golf; you hit a bad shot, get mad, forget about it, and then move on to the next one.”
In reality, it wasn’t the “Iceman” nickname that impacted Becker as much as being in unfamiliar territory.
High school goal posts are 23 feet, 4 inches wide, compared to 18-6 in college. It was also a factor that Becker was no longer playing in front of small crowds in high school stadiums.
“It doesn’t feel like it matters as much (in high school) and now it’s like, ‘Oh, you’re on TV, you have 60,000 people watching you. I’ve gotta make this kick,’” he said.
From the start of last year, however, Becker knew Dorrell and the coaches were behind him. So were his teammates.
“Trust is huge in kicking,” he said.
He rewarded that trust with a strong finish, including a 43-yard field goal to beat Oregon State, 37-34, in double overtime.
Becker admitted he always wants to be perfect in his results but said last year was a great experience for him going forward.
“It’s all about the mental,” he said. “I used to spend hours and hours on the field, just rep after rep after rep after rep until I perfected it. But I realized in my first year that a lot of it is how you approach the situation and what you can take away from the result, and not the result itself. I think I’ve just learned how to be more confident in situations. Being in a couple of big-time situations last year, I feel like I have more confidence now to be able to do this.
“Having the experiences last year and hitting long ones, short ones; makes, misses, I know all the things that will happen now, so I feel like I’m better prepared for it.”