How a 'flipping kicker' became a Florida cult hero

Florida takes lead off 26 yard FG (0:28)

Eddy Pineiro 26 yd FG GOOD (0:28)

Forty yards.

That's about as far Eddy Pineiro thought he could kick a football at a pair of uprights as he looked to impress a group of football coaches during his first week at ASA College in North Miami Beach.

But 40 yards to Pineiro, who had never kicked a field goal before in a game at any level, and 40 yards to the coaches was much different ... like 30 yards different.

Pineiro trotted out to the 40-yard line, set the football up and turned around to face the opposite end zone. Perplexed, a coach called out in confusion.

“You’re kidding me, right?” the coach shouted.

“You’re kidding me, what? I said 40 yards,” Pineiro replied matter-of-factly.

Baffled, the coaches allowed the bizarre spectacle to play out.

Pineiro lined his eyes up with the ball, peeked at the tiny goal posts in the distance, descended on the ball and swung his right leg. Moments later, the ball sailed through the far-off uprights. A coach took Pineiro's father, Eddy Pineiro Sr., aside and told him to cancel his son's soccer plans and consider a future in football.

"It was unbelievable," Eddy Sr. said.

Word then got out about his dizzying performance, and the attention poured in. Eddy Sr. was advised to let his son join the ASA football team and send him to a few summer kicking camps, even though he had a full ride at ASA and FAU to play soccer.

Eddy Sr. and his son traveled to Fort Lauderdale to kick at one of Chris Sailer's acclaimed kicking camps. After another impressive performance, Sailer told Eddy Sr. that he had a budding star on his hands. What neither of the Pineiros knew was that schools such as Alabama and Florida would be calling soon.

“That’s where it all took off," Eddy Sr. said. "It’s been pretty cool, but I never thought it’d get this big, to be honest with you.

“It’s like a fairy-tale story.”

Eddy Pineiro's fairy-tale adventure eventually landed him in Gainesville as Florida's 2016 cult hero. A year removed from historically dismal place-kicking (7-of-17 field goals), Florida's special teams have been energized by Pineiro's arrival. The 6-foot, 173-pound Pineiro, who didn't even know the rules to football until his first year at junior college, and his flamboyant celebrations have galvanized a fan base that endlessly chants "Ed-dy, Ed-dy" whenever he ambles onto the field.

Through 12 games, he has connected on 18 of 22 field goals, including going 3-for-3 on kicks from 50 yards and beyond. In his season debut against UMass, Eddy became just the third Gators kicker since 1981 to make three 40-yard field goals in a game.

“That was pretty cool," he said. "That was pretty nuts.”

A soccer star since he was 6 years old in Eureka, between downtown Miami and Homestead, Pineiro got his first football shot as a senior at Miami Sunset Senior High School. A four-time All-Dade County member in soccer, he earned Player of the Year honors as a senior after leading all of South Florida with 28 goals, but he had a side job with kickoffs and extra points for his school's football team.

Pineiro signed his letter of intent with FAU to play soccer, but didn't meet NCAA academic requirements and enrolled an hour away from home at ASA. When ASA's football team, in its first year of existence, needed a kicker, they called Pineiro. After impressing those coaches, Pineiro, who grew up envisioning a future with the U.S. Men's National Soccer Team, decided to give football a shot.

“It was strictly soccer until I found out I could hit a freaking 60-yard field goal," he said.

Sixty yards turned to 65, then 70 and morphed into the 77-yard kick that broke the Internet.

While he didn't play a down of juco football in order to keep his four years of FBS eligibility, he made his name by showing up more experienced kids at kicking camps.

The biggest one was Alabama's, 12-plus hours away from home.

Pineiro first wowed the Tide staff by booming kickoffs 20-25 yards farther than the other participants. Then he nailed long field goal after long field goal. After a private session that included Nick Saban, Eddy toured campus and received an offer. Pineiro didn't leave until around 8 p.m. ... after he won a kickoff contest by booting kicks about 25 yards out of the end zone.

“The guy had a fantastic leg, very explosive in the way he could kick the ball," Saban said of his introduction to Pineiro. "He was very accurate. There was a little bit of risk in the fact he hadn't kicked a lot in games, but if you go on just what his potential and ability was, we felt like he was an outstanding prospect."

After spending Saturday at Alabama’s camp, Eddy Sr. drove through the night another 7½ hours to Gainesville for Florida's camp. Kicking on about five hours of sleep, the zombie-like Pineiro earned an offer from Jim McElwain after his leg captivated his orange-and-blue audience.

“The first ball he kicked in the Swamp," Eddy Sr. said, "he put it in the stands.”

Pineiro committed to Alabama for eight months, but flipped to Florida to be closer to home and enrolled in January.

Junior college days were grueling.

To prepare for his new football career, Pineiro and his father headed to a field near ASA and practiced kicks from 5:30 a.m. to 6:30 a.m., six days a week, for six months. He trained for an hour, went to class from around 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., headed to ASA soccer practice, and then his father would pick him up and they'd kick for another hour.

Exhausted for most of his time at ASA, Eddy was grateful for those long days. It showed when Pineiro connected on 3 of 5 50-plus-yard field goals in Florida's spring game, and it has carried over to a magical first year of college ball.

Really, it has been improbable for a guy who is brand new to football to nail 81.8 percent of his field goals and have 40 of his 56 kickoffs go for touchbacks.

"He looks at it as kind of fun," McElwain said. "He goes out and kicks it and he’s done a pretty good job of that.”

Fun is a big part of his game. From his exuberant leaps into the arms of his much bigger teammates to his "in-the-moment" mannequin challenge celebration with punter/holder Johnny Townsend after his eventual 26-yard, game-winning field goal against LSU, Pineiro treats football like the game it is.

It's why he doesn't stress about any kick. Cucumber-cool doesn't even begin to describe his approach. Pineiro's years of penalty kicks and free kicks in soccer helped him get over the stress of pressure-packed moments, but he also puts his kicks into perspective.

“What pressure? Pressure is me getting up early in the morning, going to work and then providing for my family," said Eddy Sr., a Cuban emigrant who builds kitchen cabinets for a living.

“This is a sport.”

However, that sport has brought the Pineiros enormous joy. Eddy Sr. said he and his wife cried every time their son ran through the tunnel inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. For Eddy Sr., there's no greater joy than seeing his son succeed at such a high level, especially when nearly 90,000 strangers are chanting his name.

“I haven’t even seen this with Dan Marino,” Eddy Sr. said. “Oh my god. When you’ve got goosebumps and you’ve got tears, there’s no feeling like that.

“He’s just a flipping kicker!”