It took four missed field goals, a missed extra point and two losses by six points or less, but USF coach Jim Leavitt finally pulled sophomore kicker Mike Benzer.
At the start of the Bulls’ 37-20 win at North Carolina on Saturday, Benzer had made just two field goals in five attempts this season, and after missing a fourth and an extra point, Leavitt replaced him with freshman Delbert Alvarado.
Alvarado, a Tampa native and Robinson High School graduate, played in USF’s first three games and punted nine times for 313 yards. But Saturday was his first chance kicking at the collegiate level.
“It was a blessing and an honor,” Alvarado said Tuesday at the team’s weekly media luncheon. “(It was) just an amazing feeling. It’s overwhelming. I can’t really put it into words, but it was a once-in-a-lifetime type thing.”
Benzer failed to split the uprights on a 46-yard field-goal attempt in the first quarter. After running back Ricky Ponton reached the end zone on a 1-yard run in the second quarter, Benzer then missed the extra-point attempt. These two missed opportunities caused Leavitt to replace Benzer with Alvarado.
Freshman quarterback Matt Grothe, who is Alvarado’s roommate, was in a similar situation when he came off the bench to lead the Bulls to their 41-10 win in the first game of the season against McNeese State.
“The last couple weeks he’s been talking about how if everything keeps playing out the way it’s going, he’s going to end up getting a chance,” Grothe said. “He asked for advice a couple weeks ago because he knew I was in the same situation he is coming into the year. I was like, ‘Just go out there and have fun. Don’t worry about if you miss it. Just kick it like you do in practice, and you’ll be all right.'”
Alvarado was successful on both of his extra-point attempts against the Tar Heels, and he made his only field-goal attempt – a 26-yarder in the fourth. Leavitt said Alvarado will start Sunday against Cincinnati, but the freshman knows he’ll have to continue to play well to keep the starting job.
“Nothing is guaranteed,” Alvarado said. “Every time I step on (the field), I don’t look back – I don’t look forward. It’s just that kick at that time, whether it’s an extra point, a 26-yard field goal or a game-winner.”
Although he’s been working on punting and kicking all along in practice, Alvarado said he was brought to USF primarily for punting. But after four years of fulfilling all kicking duties at Robinson, he’s more than willing to step up whenever Leavitt calls his name.
“I did all three phases of special teams at my high school, so coach knew I could do different things if he needed me to,” Alvarado said. “I told him when I got here, ‘If you need me to kick off, punt, kick field goals,’ – whatever it was, I’d be willing to do it.”
He may have made the transition from high school to college as a punter – or at least started to – but Alvarado knows he’ll have to adjust to the added noise that comes with kicking in college.
“I say kicking field goals is more of a head game because the blockers are trying to block the kick, (and) you have crowd noise,” Alvarado said. “Usually when somebody punts, you don’t hear the crowd get too loud.”
Mike DePue, head coach at Robinson, said his team is struggling this season with the absence of Alvarado, but he and his coaching staff are proud to see their former starter earning some playing time at USF.
“I told him to have patience when he was there – that there was going to be some great competition,” DePue said. “I think he’ll be handling a lot of (USF’s) kicking duties over the next few years.”