John Bonano's right leg is as powerful as it is well-maintained.
So when the Arizona Wildcats' place-kicker found himself at a career crossroads a week ago, he was careful not to overdo it. Bonano stuck to his typical practice workload of about 30 kicks per day. He followed the same stretching routine and went through the same daily paces.
Mentally, though, the senior focused like never before.
"It wasn't necessarily kicking more; it was just focusing more on each kick," he said.
Saturday, he was rewarded.
Bonano connected on field goal attempts of 22, 46 and 24 yards and hit all six of his PAT attempts in the UA's 59-38 win over then-No. 18 Oklahoma State at Arizona Stadium. Bonano scored 15 points Saturday, more than half as many as he scored all last season (24). The performance was a major improvement from Week 1, when Bonano missed two field goal attempts against Toledo, including one that would have defeated the Rockets on the final play of regulation. The Wildcats won in overtime.
First-year coach Rich Rodriguez said Bonano's kicks were one of the highlights of a charmed weekend. With the upset victory, Arizona (2-0) ascended to No. 24 nationally. The Wildcats will host South Carolina State, a Division 1 FCS opponent, this weekend.
"I knew he could kick better, and he did," Rodriguez said.
Bonano's bounce-back performance was the result of four factors:
1. Technique. Bonano spent most of last week tweaking little things in his technique, mistakes that may have cropped up when the kicker pulled his hamstring over the summer. He was also more patient as he approached the ball, a move that kept him from "pushing" his kicks to the left. (Both his missed Week 1 field goals were yanked.)
And he stayed calm.
"A lot of the kickers overthink it," he said. "As long as I stick to my technique and stuff, that's what I focus on."
2. Maturity. Few UA players are more prepared to deal with adversity than Bonano, a physiology major who's widely viewed as one of the smartest players on the team.
A former walk-on, Bonano battled from the bottom of the depth chart to the starting kicker's spot. He made his debut as the Wildcats' kickoff specialist in 2009 and inherited field goal and PAT duties a year ago after Alex Zendejas and Jaime Salazar struggled.
Bonano is no stranger to struggles, either: He said he missed "three extra points or something" in his first game at Salinas (Calif.) Palma High School.
The senior said his career climb "definitely helped" him overcome the Week 1 struggles.
"I had that experience from last year, being on the field and getting past it," he said.
3. Confidence. Bonano got his first shot at redemption about 10 minutes into Saturday's game and delivered, hitting a PAT that cut OSU's lead to 14-7. He followed up with a field goal later in the quarter that made it 14-10. The kicker's biggest boost was yet to come: He nailed a career-long 46-yarder early in the second quarter, pulling the Wildcats even closer.
"It's funny. Extra points, they're supposed to be automatic. Just keep your head down, and it'll go in," said Bonano, who has yet to miss a PAT as a collegian.
"That 46-yarder definitely felt good," he added. "I had just been kicking short ones, mainly.
"To get that under my belt definitely gave me a little more confidence."
4. Support. Rodriguez stuck with his kicker after the Toledo game, in part because the Wildcats didn't have any better options: Backup Jake Smith is out for the season with a leg injury, and third-stringer Casey Skowron, a walk-on, has been on the team for less than two weeks.
Still, Bonano said he was encouraged by Rodriguez's unwavering support.
"That was big, knowing he was still supporting me, had faith in me and still let me go out there and do my job for the team," Bonano said. "I just tried to not think about that game at all - just focus on the next game, focus on the next kick.
"Just thinking positively helped me get back on track."
• Defensive lineman Justin Washington has been practicing with the Arizona Wildcats' scout team since returning to the program two weeks ago, though it is unclear when - or if - he'll appear in games again. Washington was suspended Aug. 21 for violating team rules. The defensive lineman rejoined the team when classes started two weeks ago.
"He had a pretty good week last week and is off to a good start this week," Rodriguez said.
• Sophomore linebacker Rob Hankins will assume other responsibilities within the program now that he has retired because of a concussion, Rodriguez said. Hankins and the UA's other medical-hardship players will have the option of helping coaches or training staff or equipment staff.
"We want them to stay around," Rodriguez said. "If they're going to stay on scholarship, we expect them to finish their degree, and that's the big thing. I'm sure Rob will be committed to doing that."
Cats' kickers through the years
UA senior place-kicker John Bonano increased his career field goal percentage to .667 by hitting three field goals in Saturday's win. He'll need to be more consistent to live up to Arizona's recent numbers. Here's a look at how the Wildcats' place-kickers have done over the last 10 seasons:
Name FGs/att. Long PATs/att.
2003-06 Nick Folk 30-47 (.638) 53 yards 79-81 (.975)
2007-08 Jason Bondzio 35-42 (.833) 49 yards 92-93 (.989)
2008-11 Alex Zendejas 32-43 (.744) 47 yards 90-102 (.882)
2011-present Jaime Salazar 1-4 (.250) 27 yards 7-8 (.875)
2009-present John Bonano 12-18 (.667) 46 yards 34-34 (1.000)
• What: South Carolina State at Arizona
• When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
• TV: Pac-12 Arizona: Comcast (Ch 103); Cox (Ch 75); Dish Network (Ch 445); DirecTV, not avail.
• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM, 990-AM (Spanish)