Roberto Aguayo failed, but he is not a failure.
He failed again, again, again. Nationally. Publicly. Privately, on the practice field. In prime time, on national television. On HBO, in a clenched grimace of a moment on “Hard Knocks” when he was cut from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers roster after a rookie year in which he missed nine kicks and two extra points.
The most accurate kicker in college football history was at the top of his game at Florida State, where he earned the highest honors available for his position as the Lou Groza Award winner in 2013.
Then, Aguayo became a second (second!)-round draft pick in 2016.
But that high pick clearly marked the expectations for Aguayo because of Tampa Bay’s jaw-dropping decision to trade up for him. Those expectations, in hindsight, seem unreasonable. After that trade up, it was not enough to be a good kicker. You must be perfect.
“At that point it's like I felt like I had to be someone different, someone better,” Aguayo said Wednesday. “A second-round person.”
But what happened instead has been well-documented – brutally so, especially on social media: Aguayo became a national punchline.
He was cut from Tampa Bay after missing a 47-yard field goal attempt and an extra point in the Buccaneers’ first preaseason game this year. He then went to the Bears, but was cut a second time before the regular season began.
“I’ve gone full-circle with the whole process, with getting drafted as high as I was and all the expectation,” he said. “Basically, I was at the top. And I went through some stuff. ...
“You go back to basics. It’s humbling. It definitely is.”
Aguayo said he leaned on his faith and his wife to help him
“You know, at the end of the day, God has a plan,” he said. “You might not see it, you might not realize it. You might wonder ‘Why am I struggling? Why am I going through this?’
“It’s just about regrouping, being given that time off and finding yourself and building that confidence back up.”
And then, Aguayo got a chance – in a kicking competition between free agents and journeymen in Charlotte for a spot on the practice squad – a long, long way from the second round of the NFL draft.
Carolina’s veteran kicker Graham Gano, another Florida State star and Lou Groza winner, has been working through some soreness in his knee. Gano says he feels great ahead of this weekend’s game in Tampa Bay, but without another kicker on the roster, the Panthers needed some insurance.
Aguayo tested his leg Tuesday against Andrew Franks, Younghoe Koo, and Mike Meyer. He made all 10 of his attempts, including a 57-yard long. He was the only kicker who did not miss. His signing was announced Wednesday morning.
“We had a conversation and we talked about what happened,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “It was interesting. He talked about some of the things he did, some of the things he felt. He did feel the pressure of having been a second-round pick. It was just interesting to hear him be very honest and up front about it. I thought that was a good sign.”
Aguayo was so up front, in fact, that he apologized to Rivera for making a game-winning kick against Carolina last season.
“I told him, ‘That’s all part of it. You were just doing your job,’” Rivera chuckled. “I did take a dig at him too. I asked him, ‘Do you know what the Japanese word ‘Bushido’” means?
“It’s kind of the Samurai code that, ‘Once you know you’re dead, you’re dead.’ I said, ‘Well, it’s kind of the same with a kicker. You know you’re going to miss it, just don’t miss it today.’”
The practice squad is no guarantee for the long-term, but here for now, Aguayo can be left in peace to work his way back up from perhaps the least glamorous of any spot on the field.
“The last year has been a story of that,” he said. “You can be really good one day, one time, and then nothing is working for you. So you just have to stay on the grind. Keep pushing.”
On the practice squad, Aguayo can take the time to perfect the things he rushed in his harried rookie quest for just that: Perfection.
Aguayo can start over. It might be from the bottom, but he can be himself – an earnest, determined young man who got knocked down but won’t give up trying to be the person he believes he’s supposed to be.
Not a punchline, not a spectacle.
And most certainly not a failure.