TAMPA — Roberto Aguayo kept his head down and tried to stay calm under pressure. But the more the rookie was questioned about the doubters, the ones who believe no placekicker is worth a second-round draft pick, the more his real feelings bubbled to the surface.
The interrogation came in late June, two months before Aguayo would bonk an extra point, his first NFL kick, off the right upright in a preseason opener at Philadelphia, before he would miss two field goals at Jacksonville, before he would miss three more kicks in practice this week against the Browns, including a duck hook that looked like it went off the toe of a 3-wood instead of off the foot of an All-America kicker at Florida State.
"What was it like, you getting drafted here and (people) saying you shouldn't have been picked as high as you were?'' Hall of Fame linebacker and former FSU star Derrick Brooks asked Aguayo during the Bucs' rookie symposium. "How did you feel?''
"I was excited. I was okay with it,'' Aguayo said. "Ready to do my job.'
Brooks: "You felt (ticked) off, don't lie to me! 'How can they question me?' You felt (ticked) off, don't lie to me! 'How can they not think I deserve this? I'm going to show them.' That's what you were thinking, weren't you? 'I can't wait to get down there, I get to kick in Florida, I know what it's like.' C'mon, man, talk to me. That's what you felt. Huh?''
Brooks: "Then when you got here, you were nervous, thinking … all these veterans and I'm the only kicker here. Yeah. Tell me. Huh?''
Aguayo: "I wanted people to know that, I feel like they already know, and it's not just because I'm a kicker, but I know what I'm capable of. I know what I can do. Yeah, there was a little anger. But at the end of the day, I'm here, I'm doing what I'm doing, and I'm not going to be watching what they're doing.''
Brooks: "Wondering how you're going to fit in?''
Brooks: "Then you felt, 'Well, Jameis (Winston) is down there. I'm going to be all right.' C'mon, that's the conversation we ought to have.''
The conversation about Aguayo, the most accurate kicker in NCAA history, has become a national one.
In tonight's preseason home opener against the Browns, no player will be more scrutinized than Aguayo, who still has time to straighten out his kicks and career before the Bucs open the regular season at Atlanta on Sept. 11.
Aguayo was booed by a few thousand Bucs fans when his struggles continued in practice this week. But his coaches and teammates are firmly supporting the 22-year-old, who did not miss a kick inside 40 yards in three seasons at FSU.
The Bucs created the pressure Aguayo has felt since draft day by taking him in the second round, the highest selection of a kicker since the Jets took Mike Nugent in the second round in 2005.
"The pressure you feel coming into the NFL is so significant, you can cut it with a knife,'' said Mark Royals, who punted and held for placekicks for 15 seasons in the NFL. "(Aguayo) comes into the situation with even more pressure because it's such a rarity for a kicker to be drafted that high. (The Bucs) were sort of rolling the dice."
Royals said that more narrow hash marks and having harder K footballs to kick are adjustments from the college game, and they can fray at a kicker's confidence to the point where it's hard to recapture.
"When you lose your edge mentally, when you start thinking about things and second-guessing, you're done,'' Royals, 51, said.
Browns kicker Patrick Murray, who was picked up by Bucs in 2014 as an undrafted rookie, said the transition from college to the NFL can be an issue.
"For me personally, I came from a place where there were a thousand people in the stands,'' said Murray, who played in college at Fordham. "That can be a transition as well. I just try to keep it the same. I don't complicate things. My dad and I work well together. He's my coach. He taught me how to kick a ball. It's the way you learned. (Aguayo will) be fine.
"If you don't have confidence in yourself, you shouldn't be on the field.''
The Bucs plan to ride out the preseason with Aguayo as their lone kicker. They have too much invested in him to give his job away, and really, all that counts is what he does in the regular season. Royals said the Bucs should put as much pressure on him as possible in practice and games.
"Eventually he has to snap out of it,'' Royals said. "You know how they handle situations like this when a player isn't performing? You know what they do? They get on the phone and find someone who can.''
Contact Rick Stroud at [email protected]tampabay.com.