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Floridian Daniel LaCamera returns home, kicks Texas A&M to victory

October 15, 2017 GMT

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Texas A&M place-kicker Daniel LaCamera grew up idolizing Florida Gator-turned-professional kicker Caleb Sturgis, who now kicks for the Philadelphia Eagles.

As the son of two Florida graduates, LaCamera dreamt of kicking under the bright lights of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, more often called “The Swamp” which sits 138 miles from his hometown of Tarpon Springs, Florida.

“I’d watch what he’d do and see how he’d carry himself -- not just kicking but off the field,” LaCamera said of Sturgis in August during A&M’s training camp. “I just wanted to portray what he did.”

On Saturday in front of friends and family back in his home state, LaCamera saw his dream become reality. The junior drilled four field goals, including a 32-yard game-winner with less than a minute remaining, to push his Aggies over his childhood team 19-17.

“I honestly try not to think of it as bigger than any other kick,” LaCamera said of the game-winner. “It was great to do it back in my home state, too. I had 16 tickets today I had pulled. It was great to do it in front of them.”

He also said it’s his only game-winning kick at any level.

LaCamera started the night off with a 46-yard field goal late in the first quarter to tie the score at 3. His other three strikes all came in the fourth quarter, accounting for the final nine points of the game which helped the Aggies overcome a 17-10 deficit.

Thanks to a false start penalty on his second kick of the game, LaCamera technically hit five field goals with one negated by the penalty flag. He rallied from 5 yards deeper to drill a 43-yarder with 12:35 left in the game.

Four field goals in a game ties LaCamera’s career high, matching the four he hit at Alabama last season. LaCamera’s longest last season came from just 35 yards out in the 29-16 win over Auburn.

Entering Saturday’s game, Florida boasted the nation’s 24th-best red zone defense, good enough for first in the SEC. LaCamera said he suspected he might be a difference-maker in a game he’s had circled for years.

“We knew coming into this game it was going to be a big field goal game, and I needed to keep my mind right,” he said. “The whole special teams unit needed to keep their mind right. [Florida is] a great defense and a great team, but I was really proud of our team for pulling through today.”

The performance comes a week after LaCamera hit his career long, a 52-yarder, against Alabama. It came almost exactly a year after his first attempt at a game-winning field goal, a 38-yard miss against Tennessee, a game A&M eventually won 45-38 in double overtime. LaCamera said he flushed that failure from his memory bank before entering The Swamp.

“He was perfect all night and kicked some big-time kicks and was able to set us up to win the game,” A&M wide receiver Christian Kirk said. I’m definitely happy for him. He works hard, and it was definitely good to see him go out there and do what he does.”

LaCamera entered the game ranked 30th nationally in field goal percentage and 18th in field goals per game. He is now 14 of 16 this season and 31 of 40 for his career. Should he continue at an 87.5 percent clip in 2017, he would best his hero’s top season in 2012 when Sturgis hit 85.7 percent of his attempts.

Yes, LaCamera has Florida to thank for helping mold him into the kicker he is today. But after notching a win in his home state, there seemed no question his heart belongs to Aggieland.

“The 12th Man back in Kyle Field, they really help me out for this situation because they’re a lot louder than this stadium, although [the Gators] do have great fans,” LaCamera said. “There’s nothing like the 12th Man.”

• Travis L. Brown’s email address is travis.brown@theeagle.com.