"Cat Man" trying to earn a scholarship

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CLEMSON – Freshman kicker Chandler Catanzaro was with the last small group of players to leave the practice fields Friday evening, most of his teammates and the coaches already long gone, but the player that Clemson head coach calls “Cat Man” was only too happy to stop and talk about the possibility that he could be the starting kicker in two weeks when the Tigers open the season in Death Valley against North Texas.

Catanzaro, from Greenville’s Christ Church Episcopal School, came to Clemson last year as a preferred walk-on, and despite the fact that Catanzaro has not won a scholarship as of yet, Swinney said on Thursday that Cat Man was winning the battle to be the starting kicker.

Catanzaro hit 81 percent of his field goals inside of 50 yards during his high school career, and hit 10-of-16 field goals during his senior season, but only one of those misses was inside of 52 yards. He also hit 47-of-48 extra points that year, and it’s that consistency that has him in line to start.

Catanzaro said on Friday that he feels like his hard work over the summer is beginning to pay off, and he hopes to earn that scholarship.

“I’m just really comfortable with my technique right now,” he said. “I worked really hard over the summer to strengthen my lower body, my core. I’ve gotten a lot more flexible. I just worked really hard, busted my butt over the summer, in the off season and just kicked a lot. Basically, I’m just focused on every kick, trying to hone in on every one, keep my eyes back, and following through- and it’s paid off for me. As a preferred walk-on, you basically come in and you get invited to camp and you don’t get a scholarship. I’m just trying to earn one.”

Catanzaro said he had scholarship offers from Carson-Newman and Furman, and had preferred walk-on offers from several D1 schools, including Tennessee, South Carolina, Wake Forest and Maryland among others, but said he chose Clemson for a multitude of reasons.

“I’ve always been an under-the-radar Clemson fan. My dad went to Notre Dame,” he said. “Originally that’s where I planned to go, but Notre Dame is so far away and it’s cold up there. And Clemson kind of came in the picture late, like February before my senior season ended. I’ve been to games with my friends and family. I love the atmosphere- the atmosphere is awesome. I love Death Valley.

“The coaching staff was awesome. And it’s close enough to home - but far enough away from home- I can run back and do some laundry. I’m at home whenever I want. It’s was a great location. And first of all, great academics- that’s what I was mainly looking for. Clemson’s a great academic school, and my main focus in life is getting a great education and getting a great job in the future.”

Catanzaro said it didn’t take long for Swinney’s comments to reach him Thursday evening, and he said he was “pumped” to hear the coach’s comments.

“I’ve been working for something like this my whole life, just dreaming of it,” he said. “I’m pumped to hear him say something like that. I’m just out there doing my best every day, focusing on what I’m doing- not looking at it as a competition as much as me kicking my best and focusing on every kick and trying to make all of them. That’s all I can do.”

I asked Catanzaro if he had already thought ahead, to the North Texas game, and to the possibility that he could be Clemson’s kicker on that day, and he said he thinks about it all the time.

“That video clip plays in my head all day, every day,” he said- “I day-dream all the time about it. Every kick I’m hitting out there in practice, I’m thinking of it as a situation in season. Against North Texas, second quarter, going into halftime, hitting a 45 yarder. Just playing that over and over in my head, getting my mind used to it. It’s paid off.”

He then said that the thought about kicking against Auburn in week three, on national television, doesn’t bother him in the least.

“That pumps me up quite a bit,” he said. “It’s the same thing though- it’s the same thing kicking against North Texas as it is against Auburn. It’s just me and a ball out there. I’m just going to focus and do my thing. I found my groove out there, and I’m just gonna keep it up.”

And does he want to be on the field with the game on the line?

“That’s why I’m doing what I’m doing,” he said. “In all the sports I’ve played, I’ve seen myself in that situation- end of the fourth quarter, free throw, game on the line. I’ve kind of had that on my shoulders all my life. I thrive on it. I love having the game on my shoulders. I love doing it for the team- I’m just trying to do my best for the team.”

Catanzaro said that he is comfortable with anything inside of 55 yards, but he might be able to hit from longer inside of Death Valley, where he’s kicked during the Spring Game and during the fall camp scrimmages.

“I get pumped when I kick in Death Valley. It’s just unreal. It’s surreal is what it is. It’s a little different than Christ Church. That’s what I’m so pumped up about- representing for my family and for my school, Christ Church in Greenville. I’m just doing my best out there. And, I’m just pumped for this opportunity.”

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