By Sam Ficarro
GLENDALE — LSU placekicker Cole Tracy was an unknown when he stepped on campus in the offseason.
He had transferred from Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts, where he converted 68 field goals, ranking second all-time in Division II.
Yet there he was Tuesday at State Farm Stadium poised to make the record books again, just four shy of breaking the NCAA mark for career field goals of 96 held by — in an unlikely twist of fate — Zane Gonzalez, who kicked professionally in that stadium this season for the Arizona Cardinals. Who set his collegiate record just 27 miles away at Arizona State.
Tracy did it.
“This might be one of the greatest moments of my career,” Tracy said after kicking four field goals in LSU’s 42-30 victory over Central Florida in the Fiesta Bowl. “I’m very fortunate to have such a great career and support around me. For it to unfold the way it did, it’s just been a remarkable ride.”
Tracy opened scoring with a 24-yard field goal to cap LSU’s opening drive.
After making a 28-yard field goal in the third quarter, Tracy tied the record with another 28-yard kick in the fourth to draw even with Gonzalez.
With 4:12 remaining, Tracy lined up for a 26-yard field goal with a chance to be the new record-holder.
Tracy’s kick split the uprights and he became the all-time field goals leader, achieving a lifelong dream.
“That was an amazing moment,” Tracy said. “I’ve pictured that image in my mind so many times and to actually witness it and have it be a reality is a dream come true.”
The record, which accounts for FBS, FCS, Division II and Division III players, bettered Gonzalez’ 96 field goals made between 2013-16 at ASU.
Tracy said his record ranks near the top of his list of achievements
In 2017, he was the recipient of the Fred Mitchell Award, which is given to the best placekicker in FCS, Division II, Division III and NJCAA.
Eligible for a graduate transfer, he took trips to Oklahoma State and LSU during his recruitment but the opportunity in Baton Rouge was too good to pass up.
“They just opened their arms and let me know what could play out. Coach Mac (special teams coordinator Greg McMahon) did an awesome job,” Tracy said. “From the second I met coach O (head coach Ed Orgeron), I knew he was a winner so I knew I wanted to be a part of it.”
Orgeron gave all the credit to McMahon for recruiting Tracy as he did the full evaluation of the player. Orgeron said he didn’t see him kick live until he was in camp.
Gonzalez isn’t the only Arizona connection to this storyline.
The job was not a given for Tracy when he entered camp. Connor Culp, an alum of Desert Vista High School, was the starter last season, converting 11 of 16 field goals and 20 of 23 PATs.
Tracy won the starting position and the rest is history. Tracy was grateful for Culp’s help in his transition to the Tigers.
“When coming into a situation like this, you’re going to need to rely on some people,” Tracy said. “He’s been able to help me with smaller questions. He’s helped me when things might not go my way. He can kind of bounce back and give me a little feedback, stuff that I need.
“Connor (Culp) has developed so much as a player over the past few months. I think the sky’s the limit for him.”
When it comes to place-kicking, it’s never just about the kicker. It’s about a unit that has to be in unison for a placekicker to be successful.
Tracy was proud to see his specialists get recognized on the scoreboard after breaking the record.
“That’s something that goes unnoticed,” Tracy said. “With this amount of field goals, there’s a lot of people involved, not just LSU and Assumption players who have blocked for me for four years or those who snapped the ball perfectly. There’s a lot of pieces that goes into it. Although it’s an individual mark, there’s a lot of other people involved.”
Reveling in the Fiesta Bowl win, Tracy didn’t explicitly talk about what’s next for him but Orgeron believes he has a bright future.
“This guy’s special. He has some special intangibles about himself,” Orgeron said. “He’s a winner. He’s going to be a good NFL kicker for a long time.”
When Tracy committed to LSU, he said there were two ways his time in Baton Rouge could have gone.
“One, it was going to be absolutely horrible,” Tracy said. “I would have fun but it wouldn’t statistically or football wise play out. Or two, it was going to end up like this.
“For it to end like this, it’s a dream come true.”