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Ute kicker Kaneshiro proves he's no quitter

Two surprising things happened to Utah's Ryan Kaneshiro after missing the field goal that would have beaten BYU last November. First, nobody wrote any nasty letters or made angry phone calls. All the mail he received was positive -- strange, considering the Utah-BYU game has been known to divide families. Second, he slept fine the first night.

Sure, he was disappointed. Obviously he was angry at himself. But distraught? Tormented? Haunted?Save that stuff for drama class.

Kaneshiro is back this spring after missing field-goal attempts that cost the Utes not one but two victories last year. But more than four months later he figures it's just something bad that happened, period. He didn't go into a life-altering tailspin. He didn't seek a psychiatrist. He isn't flip about missing the kicks, but he isn't depressed, either. In short, he's dealing with it.

"I never did think of quitting," he says. "Those sorts of things are part of the job. It's the pressure of having the job, and I accept that."

There were a few days when Kaneshiro, then just a non-scholarship, redshirt freshman, wondered Why me? He briefly considered skipping classes, but quickly realized nobody recognized him anyway. "It's not like I'm 6-3 and 300 pounds or something," he says.

In the end it became one of those "learning experiences" -- or whatever you call such agonizing twists of fate. Still, it wasn't something he'd recommend someone ask for.

That Kaneshiro is even back with the Utes is a testament to his maturity. You think your job's hard? Try missing two game-winning field goals. Worse yet, make sure one of them is in the BYU-Utah game. Your boss yells at you? Think what it would be like with 45,000 people getting on your case.

Kaneshiro is trying for something nobody should want -- keeping his old job. Is there something wrong with this guy? Why is he DOING this?

Some jobs bring a certain amount of abuse along with them. You could be an IRS agent or telephone salesperson, for example. But even in those jobs you only have one person mad at a time. But it would be hard to find a job that invites more abuse than a kicker who misses his kicks.

Kaneshiro clams he got off with little or no negative feedback from fans. Clearly, he wasn't listening to talk radio the next week; at times it was tough distinguishing whether they were talking about Kaneshiro or O.J. Simpson. First, he missed the potential game-winner against San Diego State that led to a 21-20 loss. Then against BYU, with five seconds left in the game and the Cougars leading 26-24, he ricocheted a 32-yard field goal off the upright. Just like that his life got complicated.

When the ball sprang away, Kaneshiro fell to the ground and held his head. There were boos in the stands. One or two BYU players called him a "choker." The media reported and critiqued his failure to kick game-winners. Even his coach, Ron McBride, was inconsolable. "Chip-shot field goal," McBride complained bitterly. "You gotta make those."

In a way, the miss illustrated how far out of perspective sports really are. Kaneshiro didn't invent the war in Kosovo. He didn't lie under oath or even say something politically incorrect. Yet for days after the game, Ute fans were moaning, "Coach Mac's got to get himself a kicker." Now it's spring practice and guess what? He's baaaaack.

Although Kaneshiro is mature for his age (20), you have to wonder why he returned. Odds on him kicking in the NFL are long. Making the team this year could earn a scholarship, but at the same time, if he quit football he'd have plenty of time to get a part-time job and earn the money to attend school. Better yet, he'd have time for a social life. Odds are good his grades would rise, too, considering the additional free time. Love of the game? It's hard to love something that bites you as bad as this did.

Kaneshiro considers it similar to getting back on a horse after being bucked off.

"I know now how it feels to miss, and I don't want it to happen again," he says. "Besides, it will test my character and help me see how resilient I am."

Whether he'll actually get the chance to redeem himself is unclear. He and Cletus Truhe, last year's kickers, are competing again for the starting spot. But the Utes are determined not to let their kicking woes repeat themselves. Ricks College transfer Golden Whetman was supposed to be eligible last year but NCAA technicalities kept him out.

It's possible this story isn't over. Utah kicker Chris Yergensen missed a game-winner against Washington State in the Copper Bowl six years ago, but the next year came back to kick the game-winner at BYU. He got to be the whipping boy just long enough to set himself up to be a hero.

You could say a lot of things about Kaneshiro -- that he's not a finished product, that he's inconsistent or -- if you want to be cold -- that he's a choker, as some BYU players claimed. But two things you can't accuse him of are being faint-hearted or a quitter. If he leaves football, they'll have to drag him away kicking.