Looking at Joe Tantarelli, it is easy to see why field-goal posts are built so tall. Tantarelli, Missouri’s 5-foot-7 place-kicker, might not be able to see the uprights over his blockers if the posts were any shorter.
The Tigers’ shortest player was their second-biggest scorer Saturday in a season-opening 52-20 win against Arkansas State. Tantarelli kicked seven extra points and added a 17-yard field goal with 19 seconds left in the game for 10 points scored, right behind tailback Damien Nash’s 12 points (two touchdowns).
“It felt good,” Tantarelli said Monday afternoon. “It was obviously my first game in competition and it felt good.”
After coming to Missouri (1-0) from Glendale Community College in Glendale, Calif., the junior walk-on won the place-kicking job against sophomore Alex Pettersen in one of the closest preseason competitions on the team.
“It was a battle,” Tantarelli said. “It showed the best out of both of us, though. We both kicked every day and worked our butt off to get where we’re at today, so I was pretty stoked when I got the starting job.”
Part of the reason the preseason competition remained close was that neither kicker displayed enough consistency to make the decision easy. Missed extra points and difficulties with medium- to long-range field goals by both kickers during scrimmages seem to have been a result of the pressure of competition, though, as Tantarelli showed no struggles Saturday.
“As long as I do what I’m capable of doing, things will take care of themselves,” Tantarelli said.
Tantarelli’s selection as the starting kicker seemed to give him confidence against the Indians, when he was seven-for-seven on extra points and converted his lone field goal opportunity. Although it was his first Division I-A start, Tantarelli said he was calm and focused in front of the crowd of 57,012 at Memorial Stadium.
“I was actually somewhat surprised that I was more relaxed than I thought I would be,” Tantarelli said. “It was just one of those days, where I felt very comfortable going out there for the first time.”
The field goal, coming late in the fourth quarter, was almost a Missouri touchdown after tailback Marcus Woods strung together a few big runs that put the Tigers on Arkansas State’s one-yard line.
“I told (Woods) after the game, ‘Man, that ball was just like a foot or two off that goal line,’” Tantarelli said. “I was hoping he got in. I’ll take the field goal, but I was really rooting for Marcus to get in the end zone and cap off a drive.”
Tantarelli will have his first experience in an opposing stadium Thursday night in Troy, Ala., against Troy University, a game that will be televised nationally on ESPN2. Although the team is expecting a charged atmosphere, Tantarelli said he is going to try to approach the game with the same relaxed mindset.
“We’re down there to take care of business, and that’s the way I’m going to approach it as well,” Tantarelli said.