ASU football will suffer without Zane Gonzalez, but Brandon Ruiz might help you forget

Freshman kicker Brandon Ruiz takes the reins for Sun Devil football

In football, there is arguably no position less scrutinized and more dismissed than the place kicker. Kickers do not get the glamor of a Madden cover or the lucrative million-dollar endorsement deals. 

However, throughout college and pro football, kickers are subject to more extreme examination than any position in the game; and for good reason — in 2016, eight of the top 20 individual scoring leaders in the nation were kickers. 

When the best kicker in college football graduated from ASU last spring, there was never any doubt that he would leave a glaring question mark in the roster. 

But Brandon Ruiz, the freshman kicker to replace Zane Gonzalez, has the skill and potential to pick up where Gonzalez left off. 

If you watched ASU football at any point over the last four years, you know how much value Gonzalez added to the team.  

Gonzalez played a crucial role in head coach Todd Graham’s offense last season, averaging nine points per game, or 27 percent of the team’s total production. He was fourth in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) with 1.9 field goals per game. 

He was machine-like in his efficiency, too. Gonzalez was seventh in the country in field goal efficiency at 92 percent. 

What makes Gonzalez a truly perennial talent is his strength-accuracy combination. He kicked long field goals at an efficient clip, but he dominated on kickoffs as well. More than three quarters of his kickoffs last season went for touchbacks, ranking him third in college football. Minimizing kickoff returns gave a much-needed break to ASU’s defense and special teams last season. 

Undoubtedly, Gonzalez has already proven that he is an NFL-ready kicker, earning a seventh round draft selection from the Cleveland Browns and edging out Cody Parkey for the starting job.  

Taking over kicking duties for a college football team is a job that demands performance under pressure. However, it is a job that freshman Brandon Ruiz, ASU’s newest starting kicker, has the ability to excel at.

Ruiz takes the reins from Gonzalez with an impressive profile. He is entering the season as the number one ranked kicker on Chris Sailer’s kicker prospect list.

“Brandon is one of the best I’ve ever seen under pressure,” Chris Sailer, founder of Chris Sailer Kicking, a renowned training camp for kickers, said. “(Ruiz) is more than ready to handle the pressure of Pac-12 football ... one of the very few true freshman I believe can do so.” 

In high school, Ruiz dominated kickoffs with a whopping 94 percent touchback rate and a respectable 85 percent field goal rate. 

Nonetheless, he is sure to face a learning curve as he transitions to the college game where kickoffs are placed 10 yards farther back than in high school. 

Through two games, Ruiz has attempted only two kicks, both from 50-plus yards, and converting only his 52-yard attempt

He is six of seven on PAT attempts. In last week’s game Rashaad Penny of San Diego State University returned a Ruiz kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown.  

Though his potential is encouraging, Ruiz clearly has work to do if he wants to compete with the best players in his position.

Ruiz has all the tools to be a great kicker: an ability to perform under pressure, impressive range and a college-ready body of work. His only task now is to escape the shadow of his predecessor — one of the greatest collegiate kickers to ever play.

In his four years at ASU, Zane Gonzalez came to be a household name amongst Sun Devil fans. You may have never heard of Brandon Ruiz, but viewers might just find that he has some Zane Gonzalez in him. 

Reach the columnist at or follow @jakeuzzi on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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