COLLEGE STATION, Texas – Kickers can easily be overlooked in a football game. They often don't receive credit for doing their job good, but are frequently criticized when they make a mistake.
Texas A&M kicker Seth Small has seen both sides of playing the position since arriving in Aggieland last year.
The Katy High School product was thrust onto the big stage sooner than expected, and despite some early inconsistency, he has become a central part of the team.
Small was thrown into action in just his third game with the Aggies. Senior Daniel LaCamera fractured his foot in a game against Clemson and head coach Jimbo Fisher needed his freshman to step in. It was new for both Small and his head coach.
"It's the first time I've had a kicker get hurt in 30 years," Fisher said.
Small kicked off his collegiate career against Louisiana-Monroe at Kyle Field in Week 3 of the 2018 season. He had a dream start, converting his first five field goal attempts, including a career-long 52-yard kick against Alabama the following week.
However, in his next two starts against Arkansas and Kentucky, Small missed three of four attempts.
"He transitioned very well," Fisher said. "He had some really nice kicks. … Then he hit a little lull, hit a little struggle. Sometimes for a guy when they first come in, they go through that. When a guy subs in the game and does really well you say, ‘He'll be the starter.' What happened? Well, it's starting the game and having all the time to think."
Small, who looks up to four-time Super Bowl champion Adam Vinatieri, said he understands that a short memory is necessary for any kicker to be successful, and he leaned on what he learned early in his career.
"I just try to forget about it," Small said. "Just flush it, short-term memory. I learned that back in eighth grade. That something that my high school coach taught me. Make or miss, just flush it. Next kick."
It worked. Small bounced back against South Carolina, converting a season-best four field goals, including matching his 52-yard career long. He ended the season converting 20 of 28 attempts, made all 40 extra points and was given the Special Teams Newcomer Award.
His freshman year did not always stay in between the uprights, but Small said he relied on his experience from kicking at Katy High School, one of the most successful programs in Texas, to help him get through. In 2017, Katy ISD opened a $70 million, 12,000-seat stadium, and Small said it was like playing at a mini college.
"Katy prepared me tremendously for college," Small said. "I'm so thankful that I went there. … Their coaches did a good job preparing me mentally and physically."
"They're tough fans," he added. "There's a standard of excellence with Katy, and we just try to live up to that every day. Very similar to the 12th Man."
By the end of high school, Small had a career-long kick of 50 yards, was ranked as a top kicker in the country by multiple outlets and had earned an Under Armour All-America Game invitation.
"It's moments like these when I have to pinch myself and go, ‘Is this real?'" Small said while surrounded by media members on Monday. "It's such a dream come true."
Fast-forward to this season, his sophomore year at Texas A&M. Small again had a perfect start, going five-for-five in the first three games of the season. However, against Auburn, he missed two long but makeable field goals that might have given the Aggies a chance in a game they lost 28-20.
"There's definitely a point where you can overthink it," Small said. "You can get in your own head. But I just try to stay out of my head as best as possible."
Last weekend against Arkansas at AT&T Stadium, Small said he tried not to think and got back to his muscle memory. He lined up for a 50-yard attempt late in the fourth quarter to put the Aggies up by four points. Small kicked it down the middle, effectively winning the game for the maroon and white.
"I'm so impressed with the kick he just made," Fisher said. "To come back in that critical time, and that's the next time you get a chance [after missing two kicks]. To me that shows his maturity, the way he is, the type of young man he is and how he does things."
Texas A&M punter Braden Mann, who is close friends with Small, knew what the kick meant for Small's confidence.
"It was huge," Mann said. "We knew that was a big kick going into it, but he didn't make it any bigger than it needed to be. This week, I know on Thursday, we had a tougher week of practice for special teams. Coming out and making that kick he kind of just calmed down and got back to what he was doing."
Small said Mann and long snapper Connor Choate give him a lot of confidence, and they like to keep it lighthearted and loose when kicking and punting. He added that some people still mix up himself and Mann, as they play similar positions.
"Braden thinks he's the better looking one, but I don't think he is," Small joked.
At the end of the day, the ultimate pressure for any kicker comes with having the opportunity to win a game for your team in the final seconds. Small said he feels comfortable kicking from up to 57 yards away.
"I live for that moment as a kicker," Small said. "Just the game coming down to the wire and hitting a game-winning field goal. But I hope that never happens because we are up by so much."