Kicking a field goal to clinch a victory against one of your team’s biggest rivals should come complete with a whole bunch of nerves.
Diego Guajardo, the South Alabama kicker who nailed the game-winning field goal last Saturday at Louisiana, suggests otherwise.
“I don’t think that a game winner is that much different than a regular kick,” Guajardo said. “Obviously, there’s more at stake there. I try not to get nervous. I try to control myself. Everybody knows that kicking is a mental game as much as it is a physical game. I try to calm myself down, control my breathing and that’s pretty much it. Whether it’s a game-winning field goal or a regular field goal, it's all the same. Nothing changes.”
This one was different, though. A year ago, Guajardo missed a pair of extra points and kicked a 37-yard field goal attempt wide right with 1:06 left in a 20-18 loss to Louisiana. It was the Ragin’ Cajuns sixth successive win over the Jaguars. This time, he calmly drilled a 43-yard field goal on the final play to give South Alabama the 20-17 win. The streak was snapped.
“Every win is important, but I think we took this one a little more personal,” Guajardo said after the game. “This is a huge win for all of us considering their past success. We came here, we knew what we wanted, and we expected to win no matter how. That was everyone’s mentality.”
Guajardo was a lonely man in the moments leading up to the kick. He quietly went through his routine as the Jaguars hurried up the field to get into field goal position. He visualized the kick from every possible spot on the field. He said his teammates respect his space in the moments leading up to a field goal attempt.
“I trusted my training, and it worked out,” Guajardo said.
Guajardo’s training for moments like that began when he was in middle school. The Monterrey, Mexico native, who moved to Daphne with his family when he was 10 years old, was a soccer player at the time.
“In middle school, the coaches kind of knew me as the soccer kid,” said Guajardo. “I could hit the ball really hard. They told me to go out there and kick for them. They didn’t think I knew much about football, which I didn’t.”
A couple of years later, as a 10th grader, he started working toward becoming a college kicker. Eventually, he walked on at South Alabama and began at the bottom of the depth chart. By the time the season kicked off, he had worked his way to the top of the depth chart as the kickoff specialist. He opened the season with a kickoff against Nebraska, while surrounded by more than 89,000 people at Memorial Stadium.
The memories of that August afternoon in 2019 are a bit hazy, at best.
“I’m going to be 100% honest with you, I’m pretty sure I blacked out,” Guajardo said. “It was definitely fun and I remember it being fun. But the game almost feels like a blur. I remember the locker room and the tunnel to get into the stadium. When we got on the field, everything went blank, to be honest.”
Guajardo became the field goal specialist late in the season and has maintained that role throughout the rest of his time at South Alabama. In his career, he’s made 33-of-42 field goal attempts, including a school-record 54-yarder in 2020. He was the lone Sun Belt Conference kicker to make kicks of 50 yards or more in 2020. This season, he is perfect on his seven field goal attempts and 20-of-21 on extra points.
All of that is just numbers to Guajardo.
“A lot of people out there really care about their stats and all that stuff,” Guajardo said. “Obviously, it’s a huge part if you want to take it to the next level, that’s what people look at. It’s never been about me. This season we have a [great] team. I want to help the team as much as possible. I told my coaches, if I ever become a liability, don’t spare my feelings, don’t try to tiptoe around my feelings. I want to win. I’ve never played for myself. I’ve always played for the team to help them win.”
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