Walking on eggshells following a difficult 2011 season as a true freshman, Alex Garoutte is trying to show everyone he has improved, but a setback at Cal two weeks ago may make that more difficult to do.
After missing two field goals and having another blocked in a 27-17 win over the Golden Bears, Garoutte saw junior college transfer Jon Mora awarded some first-team reps in practice this week.
Arizona State coach Todd Graham said Tuesday the job was still up for grabs and it wasn't yet determined who'd kick against Colorado Thursday, but if the decision came on that day it would be Mora.
"Our big focus is the kicking game and that's one of the big things, I challenged our guys," Graham said. "We're going on the road in a hostile situation and the kicking game is the one thing we've got to improve the most on."
Garoutte, a sophomore 6-foot-1, 189-pounder, has made 6 of 10 field goal attempts this season, missing two from inside 40 yards at Cal in addition to the block. He also missed 51-yarder earlier in the year. Mora missed his only attempt of the year, from 40-yards.
"I think it's good for everyone," Garoutte said of the competition. "I think we have three great kickers there that could start all over the country. Competition makes everyone better. Wow, if he is making kicks, I really have to step it up to keep my job. If not he's going to be in there."
Graham repeatedly stressed a need this week to be improved in the team's field goal success rate, and it's been an area of concern for the Sun Devils in recent years. Last season, Garoutte converted 15 of 22 attempts, but had some big misses that could have made the difference in one or more games.
He missed three field goals in the final six minutes in Sun Devil games last year, including ASU's 29-28 loss at UCLA, which set up a disastrous finish to the season, and a 21-yard field goal the following week at Washington State.
"There is the fact that people want to see if I can overcome last season and if it's behind me or not," Garoutte said. "But I know I am a better kicker than last year."
Working with NFL placekicker Billy Cundiff and former ASU Thomas Weber kicker Thomas Weber, Garoutte kicked about five times a week, and made a few tweaks this off season. He believes he has improved and still has hopes of that being demonstrated on the field.
"The goal is to make everything," Garoutte said. "I want to win a Groza Award, I don't know if that is in grasp still, but I want to get there. I would say a goal is making 90 percent of my field goals."
The big pressure kicks haven't come yet this year, and Garoutte said he is preparing himself mentally and physically for those moments so that they don't end in the same way. He knows there is going to be ups and downs this season but said his experiences from last season have helped him grow as a kicker.
"I kind of got forced to get ready for them last season," Garoutte said. "Every time you make a mistake you have to go on and just not make the same mistake twice."
Garoutte almost got a taste of last year's blame game after the Sun Devils let nine points get away from them in the kicking game at Cal, but they were fortunate enough to not turn over the football and play better in other phases of the game.
"I was happy with the Utah game," said Garoutte, who wasn't needed for any field goal attempts in several earlier season games. "Obviously one I wish we got back (Cal), but I have been going in spurts my whole career here; it's been off and on."
Teammates of Garoutte have continuously pushed him to reach his highest potential through his battles and know the spotlight and pressure he is under.
"I love Alex," senior punter, Josh Hubner said. "He is a great kicker, he is a great kid, and he has a hell of a leg. I have confidence in him to kick it through the uprights. He is booming the ball, the more opportunities the kid gets the better he will do."
Garoutte is aware that he must keep working on his skills. He knows that there is always room for improvement; a way to have a better kicking percentage, and that is exactly what Graham is expecting.
"It's pretty black and white when it comes to kicking," Garoutte said. "It's either in or it's out. And the goal is for it to be in."