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Beloved by FSU fans, Roberto Aguayo makes fans forget kicking woes

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Roberto Aguayo made his first game-winning field goal last season against Boston College. AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser

Roberto Aguayo can't go out in Tallahassee. When the Florida State kicker leaves his apartment, it's often incognito, concerned the face concealed underneath a pulled-down cap and behind sunglasses will still be recognized.

There are the overt stares and the finger pointing. Conversations range from the inaudible to the fanatical.

Kickers from pee-wee to the professional ranks (and pop culture; see: Finkle, Ray) can sympathize. Or so they might have thought.

The Seminoles' specialist isn't in hiding from a missed kick like so many of his tormented Florida State predecessors. The redshirt junior is Florida State's most popular player heading into the 2015 season. Repeating for emphasis -- really just reinforcing the absurdity -- Florida State's fan base is obsessive about its kicker.

"I can't go out in Tallahassee now without taking a picture or signing an autograph," Aguayo said. "Sometimes I just stay home because I don't feel like dealing with it. Sometimes I wear a hat and glasses. Sometimes I just want to be myself and not worry about hearing, 'Oh that's him.'"

Aguayo said he's never one to turn away a swooning fan's request. But date night with his girlfriend or dinner with roommates is isolated from campus or downtown Tallahassee. (We're keeping his preferred locales on a need-to-know basis for his own protection.)

"I've never thought that was possible -- to have a kicker be a celebrity," said junior cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who is one of the Seminoles' best players.

The adulation for Aguayo is warranted. He was the 2013 Lou Groza Award winner, given to the nation's best kicker, and an ESPN.com All-American a season ago. In two seasons, Aguayo has converted 48 of 52 field goals (92 percent) and hasn't had a single errant PAT out of 149 attempts. In 2014, kickers made 72 percent of their attempts on average, but that percentage drops to 55 from 40-plus yards; Aguayo has made 82 percent (18-of-22) from 40-plus yards in his career, including 4-of-5 from 50 or longer.

"It's like anything: When you're good, people like you," Aguayo said. "When you're not good, people don't like you."

Few programs have a more tortured special-teams history than the Seminoles. Florida State yields "Wide Right" to the Buffalo Bills, because the Seminoles reluctantly claim Wide Right I, II and III, all late-game misses against spirited rival Miami.

"Wide Right I" and "Wide Right II" both had national championship implications in 1991 and '92. Then the 2002 season turned tears to a numbed laugh with "Wide Left," a kick that would have knocked off defending national champion Miami.

No position is quite on the precipice of hero and goat like place-kicker. Over the past two seasons, Alabama's Cade Foster and Arizona's Casey Skowron reported receiving death threats on Twitter after missed kicks. Football has a love-hate relationship with specialists, and that even extends to a kicker's teammates. Kickers' football credentials are in constant question, and Ramsey, speaking generally, said kickers "better not mess up because they only have one job."

Aguayo witnessed the vitriol aimed at kickers in the wake of Florida State's 2010 loss to North Carolina. His predecessor, Dustin Hopkins, missed a last-second field goal in a two-point loss. Aguayo was visiting on a recruiting trip.

"It's easily forgotten when done right but not easily forgotten when it doesn't, but you expect that when you miss a kick," Hopkins said of the backlash he sometimes received. "It's an easy position [to criticize], very black and white. If an O-line pulls and miss the block, some people might notice. Whether you make the kick or miss it, it's clear."

Aguayo left Doak Campbell Stadium wondering whether Seminoles fans would direct the same venom at him if he missed a game-winning attempt.

Through two seasons, however, Aguayo is perfect in tense situations. In December's ACC championship, he broke a second-half tie with three consecutive field goals. Two weeks earlier, in a driving rain storm, Aguayo gave FSU a 20-17 win against Boston College with a field goal with three seconds left. It was his first game-winning attempt.

Late in the third quarter of that BC win, Aguayo missed a go-ahead attempt from 40 yards.

Some misses have victimized kickers long after the game, and careers have careened off their path as a result. Aguayo's confidence borderlines on hubris, which allows him to rebound from misses.

"The great ones, confidence is what they all have. You can't play any position without confidence and [Aguayo] has sole [confidence]," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. "I liked his makeup [in recruiting]. He was a hungry kid."

It's why when Aguayo is hungry in the literal sense there is an entire community willing to pick up the tab. Florida State, of all places, loves its kicker.