Nate Freese moves on after misses

NEWTON, Mass. -- Being a specialist in football is a lot like walking a tightrope without a net. There isn't much to stand on and there's even less of a margin for error.

Nate Freese understands that now, if he didn't already. Against Northwestern on Saturday, Boston College's sophomore place-kicker was on the field for a grand total of five snaps -- two point-after attempts and three field-goal attempts. On two of the latter, he failed.

It was the first time in his career that he missed two field goals in a game.

Had Freese's kicks all been true, he might have been on the field six times Saturday -- as the Eagles were in field-goal range as the final seconds ticked off the clock. If the only things altered were his two wayward kicks, the score would have been 24-23 Wildcats, and Freese would have had a chance to play hero.

"I took it pretty tough," Freese said before practice Wednesday afternoon. "I took it as I could've changed the outcome, I could've had the win for us, if I would have performed and done my duties. Because the rest of the team did what they needed to do and I didn't do what I needed to do."

Such is the life of a specialist. Because the opportunities are so few and far between, each one means exponentially more. Each mistake is magnified. And unlike a quarterback, running back or cornerback, the specialist may not get a chance to atone for an error in the same game.

"No, it's not easy [to put it behind you]," Freese said. "Coaches tell me, 'It's last week's game, forget about all that stuff,' but it's always in my mind. It's pretty fresh. I just try to use it as motivation for the rest of the season."

Freese's first snap Saturday came with the ball spotted at the Northwestern 2-yard line. The offense had failed to capitalize on Andre Williams' 69-yard run on the first play from scrimmage, so Freese was called on to salvage some points from the drive. He did, guiding the chip shot through the uprights.

Freese's second snap came later that quarter, with the ball on the NU 13. This time, he pushed the kick wide right.

"Every kicker has their day," he said. "It was just one of those days where I had back luck. The hold and the snap were perfect, it was nothing on that, it was totally on me. I take full responsibility for that."

Freese's third snap came after Williams' first touchdown, in the second quarter. The PAT was good.

Freese's fourth snap came with the ball on the Wildcats 23 with 13:56 left in the fourth quarter and the Eagles trailing 17-10. This time, he pushed the kick wide left.

Freese admitted the first miss was on his mind before the second.

"After the first one I was shocked," he said with a short, hard laugh. "I mean, a 31-yard field goal should be pretty routine. After that one didn't go in, I was pretty angry but I tried to focus my mind. They always say think about the next kick. It's always the next kick that's the biggest one.

"It just, the next one, just … I don't know," he said, sighing. "It's just one of those days that everything wasn't going right."

Northwestern took over on downs after the second missed field goal and drove downfield for the touchdown that provided the winning margin.

When he misses a kick, Freese said he runs off the field and tries to put the failure behind him by focusing on fundamentals -- the basics of kicking, the things he can't think about when he's out on the field, actually kicking.

"[Coach Spaziani] always says, 'If you think, you stink,' so when I'm out there I just try to do what's natural," he said. "It's like muscle memory to me."

Unfortunately for Freese, and for all specialists who make mistakes with games on the line, muscle memory can't help erase the actual memories of failure. It can't completely restore confidence.

Standing just inside the tunnel by the Eagles' locker room in Alumni Stadium before practice, Spaziani was asked if he was confident that Freese was over any issues he had Saturday. He was blunt.

"Nooo," the coach said quickly, drawing out the word. "No, no, no."

But Spaziani thinks Freese has the makeup to get over it.

"He needed to be reminded of how he got to be where he was," Spaziani said. Behind him, Freese ran by, the first player onto the damp field, cleats click-clack-clicking on the concrete. "Subtle little stuff sneaks in over there," Spaziani continued. "Everybody's been saying, 'Oh, the kicking game's in good shape' and when you look at it you go, 'Yeah, all right, we are.' And he was kicking fine. But back there there's this little bug going, 'Jeez, I got this all down, I'm going to try 60-yarders now and 50. And I forgot how I got to be [where I was].'"

As the coach talked, Freese ran to the opposite end of the field, stretched, then started kicking from a tee with no run up. Just setting the ball up, pulling his leg back and booting it through the uprights, the ball sending little clouds of mist off the sodden netting on impact.

"We're trying to get him back on the same page," Spaziani said, referring to the consistent performance of Freese's freshman season when he hit 22 of 25 attempts, twice kicking four field goals in a game. "Whether he does, that's going to remain to be seen now. That's what I told him, 'You go from everybody patting you on the back to kicking you in the ass.'"

While the missed kicks certainly cost the Eagles on Saturday, not everyone was kicking the already upset specialist.

"A couple of the seniors came up to me and said, 'We trust you, we would want you out there to win the game for us, potentially,'" Freese said. "They were very reassuring.

"The specialists all came up to me, Ryan [Quigley], Sean [Flaherty] and Gerald Levano, Lars Anderson talked to me, couple other people. [Nate] Richman came up to me, gave me some encouragement. Told me, 'Game's over, got to move on. It's part of being a specialist.'"

And while the Eagles would have preferred their place-kicker to be perfect in his five snaps on Saturday, to help them to a win instead of contribute to a loss, Freese believes he'll be stronger for the experience.

"I think God has a plan for me, and everything I do has a purpose and a reason," he said. "So we'll just have to see what this was."

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com.