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UMass’ Cooper Garcia takes unorthodox path to kicking

  • UMass junior kicker Cooper Garcia, center, is congratulated after a successful kick. FILE PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING



Staff Writer
Friday, November 09, 2018

AMHERST — If Cooper Garcia’s kicking career ended on a high school field in California, that would have been alright with him.

He was perfectly satisfied with taking his Nike football out to the field, using a roll of duct tape as a tee and booting field goal after field goal through the uprights. The UMass junior had no real desire to actually play football or kick in games, he just enjoyed going out onto the field on quiet nights and kicking.

But then his mother got involved.

“She kicked me out of the car the second week after eighth grade,” Garcia said. “Summer ball had just started for the high school team and (she) kicked me out of the car and forced me to play football against my will. I had no intention of playing football in my life. I did not want any part of it.

“She just said it was time for me to go kick,” Garcia added. “‘It’s about time you take that seriously and at least go try it for yourself in a real setting.’”

Garcia didn’t even start out as a kicker for his high school team. He began his football career at quarterback before finding his true calling two weeks before his first game.

“I went a couple of months playing backup quarterback because I pitched,” Garcia said. “They just put me out there and said ‘Who can kick a football’ and I said I thought I could. As a freshman I was hitting 40-yard field goals and I feel like that was a good sign.”

Garcia ended up at Ventura College for two seasons before joining the Minutemen this past spring. He set a Ventura College record for kickers with 104 points last season after converting 15 of 20 field goals and all 59 extra points. His coach at Ventura, Steve Mooshagian, had a relationship with UMass coach Mark Whipple that opened the dialogue about Garcia.

Whipple said he came away impressed from his initial conversations with Garcia and liked the fact the junior was placed in high-pressure situations and succeeded.

“I liked the way the ball came off his foot, it had a little more lift,” Whipple said. “He made some big field goals and was really accurate.”

Upon arriving at UMass, Garcia was immediately thrust into a kicking competition with redshirt junior Mike Caggiano. The two battled throughout training camp and entered the season as co-starters, alternating kicking a field goal or extra point and then the subsequent kickoff.

Through the first four games, there was not much to separate them in the race. Both had made all eight extra points and Caggiano had made one more field goal because he had one more attempt. The only real difference was Garcia held a 3-yard advantage on kickoffs.

But things changed when Caggiano hurt his groin in the lead-up to UMass’ game against Charlotte in September. Caggiano made two extra points and took two kickoffs against the 49ers, but did not kick after missing a 20-yard field early in the second quarter. Garcia was then given all the kicking duties until Caggiano healed, but he has not relinquished the role in UMass’ last five games.

“After he got hurt, it was just another opportunity for me to step up and try to showcase what I can do,” Garcia said. “I just tried to make the most of every moment that I had and I just try to display what I can do for a team each and every field goal and PAT. I’m just happy with what opportunities that I am given to show what I can do.”

Garcia’s penchant for making important kicks came through again last week against Liberty when he nailed the 22-yarder in triple overtime to lift the Minutemen (4-6) to a 62-59 win. That kick was a bit more nerve-racking because of the five-minute wait Garcia had to stand through before he had a chance to put his foot through the ball.

Liberty took a timeout in an attempt to ice Garcia and make him think about the kick. Then the referees decided to review if Marquis Young actually picked up the first down on the previous play. Then it was time for Garcia to make his first career game-winning field goal.

“I was ready for the moment and I was ready for the opportunity,” Garcia said. “It definitely wasn’t anything that affected my kicking abilities, I just wanted to kick the ball. I was waiting around a lot and I’m sure everyone was waiting to see the outcome of this kick as well.”

At noon Saturday, UMass hosts BYU at Gillette Stadium, the type of “real setting” Garcia’s mother probably couldn’t have dreamed about when she forced her son to go play football. But for Garcia, it’s just another day and just another chance for him to kick a ball through the uprights for points.

“I thrive off every opportunity that I get,” Garcia said. “I dream about every moment that I’m going to get in the future. You just have to be thankful and happy with every opportunity that you get because you don’t have one that’s guaranteed next time.

Josh Walfish can be reached at jwalfish@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @JoshWalfishDHG. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.