It was a rough go-around for Michael Tarbutt in his first season as UConn football’s kicker last year. He hit just 12 of 18 field goals (66.7 percent) and missed a pair of extra points.
On top of that, he struggled in big moments. Tarbutt missed a 33-yard field goal against ECU that would’ve sent the same into overtime. Three weeks later, he missed a 36-yarder to give the Huskies a seven-point lead with 55 seconds left against Temple — although the team still pulled out the win.
He recovered towards the end of the season, booming a 50-yarder in the rain at Fenway Park against Boston College and hitting all three field goals in the finale against Cincinnati— including a career-long 53 yarder.
But it all came crumbling down on the final play against the Bearcats when UConn scored a touchdown to get within one point, but Hergy Mayala drew a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty, changing head coach Randy Edsall’s call for a two-point conversion for the win to an extra point to tie. The penalty meant the kick would be a 31-yarder instead of the typical 16-yard PAT.
Tarbutt pulled the kick left and the Huskies finished 3-9.
Now, at the dawn of a new training camp, Tarbutt spent enough time dwelling on last season. He’s finally put it behind him.
“Up until the spring I was using [last season] as a learning experience but once the spring was over it’s completely flushed down the toilet for me,” he said. “Moving into next season, it’s a brand new year so I’m excited to get out there.”
When new special teams coordinator Eddie Allen arrived in Storrs, he noticed a few things while watching film of Tarbutt.
“He had some inconsistencies at times but he got to the point this spring where he’s very consistent,” Allen said. “He’s got a lot of talent, he’s got a lot of leg, there’s no question about that. He just needs to develop his process as a kicker.”
Allen has been drilling that process into Tarbutt’s head since he arrived.
“We always talk about every kick is the same kick, every kick is a straight kick,” Allen said. “Every kick is the same kick whether it’s a practice rep, game rep, warm up rep. Every kick is the same kick. If he develops that process — he’s started to — that’s what great kickers do, they’ve got a process and he’s on the road to be where he needs to be.”
While the coaches can try to simulate pressure situations in practice for Tarbutt, there’s no replacement for a live-game situation. Instead of learning how to handle those big moments specifically, Tarbutt has a different approach.
“I think it’s just repetition. The more confident you get in your ability, the more consistent you get,” he said. “You just become more confident going into situations whether it’s practice or game. Any situation you walk into, the more consistent you are in practice, the better you’re going to be on the field.”
Tarbutt’s physical abilities have never been in question — he hit a 60-yard field goal in high school — it’s just a matter of catching the mental side up.
He’s still young as well, with two more seasons of eligibility left. Dave Teggart hit just 60.9 percent of his kicks and Bobby Puyol made just 64.3 percent in their sophomore seasons. There’s still plenty of time for Tarbutt to improve.
“I think he’s got a good future ahead of him,” Allen said. “He’s got the right mental approach to the game and he’s got the physical ability to be a great kicker.”