Sept. 19, 2015 is not a day Colorado State kicker Wyatt Bryan is fond of.
The game marks the only time Bryan has missed more than one field goal in a game in his collegiate career. On that night, he missed three.
CSU was taking on Colorado in the 87th installment of the Rocky Mountain Showdown. Towards the end of the second quarter, Bryan came up short on a 52-yard attempt. In the third quarter with the game tied at 17, he missed wide right from 47 yards out.
Finally, with the chance to take the lead in overtime and right all wrongs, Bryan’s 27-yarder was blocked. He finished the night 1-for-4 and the Rams lost by three points.
The redshirt freshman felt demoralized. Even worse, fans didn’t let him forget about it.
“That night I got nasty tweets from people that I don’t even know who they are. ‘Woke up this morning still hating your guts,'” Bryan chuckled. “But you’ve just got to put it behind you because the most important kick is the next kick.”
Bryan did just that. The Larkspur, Colo. native went on to miss just two more attempts his freshman season and three attempts his sophomore year. Still, fans had engrained in their memory his performance on that fateful September evening.
“We challenged him that he had to get better,” head coach Mike Bobo said. “He went to work, he got stronger. I thought he was a really good kicker for us last year, he was becoming an elite kicker, one of the better kickers in this league.”
This offseason, Bryan continued to improve, both at the Kohl’s Kicking Camp and on his individual time. In the nation’s premier camp for college kickers and punters, Bryan stacked up well with the competition.
But perhaps more important is the work he put in with long snapper Trent Sieg and holder Nathan Lucas. The trio teamed up two or three times each week over the summer to perfect their techniques.
It’s that kind of preparation that breeds confidence, something evident in Bryan’s 2017 performance. He has already made more field goals than all of last season and is just four makes away from his freshman season. What’s more, the magnitude of his kicks serves as a stark reminder that this is a different Wyatt Bryan.
Against Nevada with the Rams trailing by seven, Bobo called upon Bryan for a 51-yard attempt at the end of the third quarter. His conversion sparked a comeback, and the Rams went on to win by two points.
The following week against New Mexico, Bryan’s right leg again accounted for the difference between victory and defeat. Early in the fourth quarter, he nailed a 40-yarder to extend CSU’s lead to seven. Then, with five minutes to go, Bryan converted a 52-yard attempt that eventually gave CSU the victory.
Bobo explained his increased confidence in Bryan this season and the impact it has on game management.
“This field goal Saturday night was huge,” Bobo said. “There wasn’t really any doubt in my mind, because that was the line. He said he could make it, and I believed him. A couple years ago, I might have gone for it there.”
Naturally, Bobo’s confidence in his kicker gives Bryan the assurance that he can continue to be a difference maker.
“It meant a lot for him to give me the opportunity to kick that,” Bryan said. “That shows that he really does have a lot of confidence in me. Any other team, if they’re not confident in their kicker, they’re not going to let him attempt a 52-yarder…That helps my confidence.”
Still just a junior, Bryan’s experience as a starter continues to grow. Now, the community that ridiculed Bryan during the 2015 Rocky Mountain Showdown is the same one signing his praises in 2017. After all, without his conversions the last two weeks, the Rams may very well be 4-4.
Still, he knows the importance of each and every kick. One miss can negate weeks of heroics. While some may turn away from the pressure, it’s something that Bryan embraces.
“You’ve got ups and downs because people either love you or they hate you,” Bryan said. “It’s the life of a kicker. It all comes down to one kick.”
And with each make, the ghosts of Sept. 19, 2015 slowly drift away.
Collegian sports editor Colin Barnard can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ColinBarnard_.