BOULDER - As with so many other things inside athletics and out, success starts with the approach - and Justin Castor is approaching his football career at Colorado as if he'll be the placekicker when the Buffaloes line up against Colorado State.
There's no unwarranted swagger on his part or disrespect towards the returning kickers. Simply, Castor, a 2010 signee from Arvada West High School with - as they say in the kicking trade, a big leg - showed up on campus this summer with one thought: to be CU's top foot come Sept. 4 at Invesco Field.
"I've been training to start - that's my goal," he said the other day after one of the team's voluntary summer workouts. "I think if you train any other way, you're setting yourself up for failure."
No secret here, but the Buffs have seen inconsistency bleed into failure in their placement game for the past two seasons.
In 2009, Aric Goodman made 31-of-32 extra point attempts but hit 55.6 percent (10-of-18) of his field goal tries. Ten of his field goal attempts (he made three) were from 40 to 59 yards - as much an indicator of the overall inefficiency of the Buffs offense as his inaccuracy.
The previous season, Goodman hit a 25-yarder to beat West Virginia 17-14 in overtime but finished 5-of-14 in field goal tries while Jameson Davis, kicking on a plant leg that later required surgery, hit one of his three attempts. Goodman also has been uncannily unfortunate in hitting the uprights: seven of his misses have found either post.
But here's the troublesome bottom line: The Buffs' field goal total over the past two seasons is 16-of-35. Their opponents' numbers during that same span: 37-of-48. Those figures obviously don't work in CU's favor.
Enter Castor, a punter/placekicker at Arvada West, where he averaged 43.5 yards a punt and hit 13-of-22 field goals as a senior (28-of-46 for his career, with 10 of 40 yards or longer and a pair from 50-plus yards). But Castor wasn't a two-trick pony: He also was a wide receiver, played basketball and ran track.
Although graduated punter Matt DiLallo must be replaced, CU coaches have told the 6-foot-4, 185-pound Castor to concentrate on the other footwork. Castor says returning punting candidate Zach Grossnickle "is hitting some really good balls right now, and the coaching staff has told me to focus mainly now on making field goals.
"There's a big emphasis on just putting them through the uprights. So it's been a big focus of mine."
Goodman, a senior-to-be, recently underwent hip surgery and only began kicking during the voluntary summer work, according to Castor, on July 6.
One of the biggest adjustments for a high school placekicker is abandoning his kicking tee in college. Castor believes he's transitioning well to kicking off the turf - something he gave the CU coaching staff and on-lookers a brief glimpse of in April.
After signing in February, he attended most of CU's spring practices and wound up kicking after two of them. Special teams coach Kent Riddle "wanted to see me start working on timing and kicking off the ground - getting used to the snap and hold at the college level. There's a big difference in that and high school . . . it's a big step," Castor said.
Getting comfortable in those areas and "working on my height (kicking) off the ground" have been his summer focal points. "I can always use improvement in that area, but the biggest thing is just making field goals - that's what the team needs," he said. "I'm just trying to put the ball through the uprights as consistently as possible."
Rather than trying to impress his new teammates by kicking from eye-popping distances, he's "kind of stayed in a shorter range - under 50 (yards). But I've hit a few around 65, somewhere in that area," he said.
Mostly though, he's stayed true to his objective: Competing hard and seeing where that leads. "There's good competition here - some very good guys," he said. "Everybody has been great so far. I was really surprised because in high school you get a lot of bantering and hazing - that kind of stuff. But it's been awesome up here. The guys have been really welcoming and it's been a great environment.
"I'm pumped; I can't wait. Summer's been long, classes have been long. I'm ready for everybody to get on campus, start the whole season and start enjoying it. It's going to be a fun year; I think we've got the right group of guys and good chemistry.
"I've watched the program growing up, since I'm from here . . . and it's more tight-knit than I ever thought possible. The guys have great chemistry and I think we've got a pretty good thing going here."
KEEN ON KEENAN: Among the summer newcomers, one name continues to surface as a player who's commandeered the attention of many upperclassmen.
Keenan Canty is a diminutive (5-9, 155) receiver, but he apparently won't be overlooked. As a senior at Edna Karr High School in New Orleans, he caught 60 passes for 630 yards and 10 touchdowns. He and his former quarterback, Munchie Legaux, appeared bound for Boulder but Legaux signed instead with Cincinnati.
During the Buffs' 7-on-7 drills over the past month, Canty's overall speed and quickness off the line of scrimmage have been impressive.
"The guy is unbelievably fast and energized," senior linebacker B.J. Beatty said.
But there's more to Canty than his quicks. Senior quarterback Cody Hawkins recalled the Buffs' first summer workout - Canty's introductory day - and the newcomer going horizontal to make a hands-only catch.
"That got people's attention," Hawkins said. "I mean, it's his first day, his first route and the first ball thrown to him - and he does that?"
Hawkins said there was initial concern about Canty being able to get off the line when pressed by bigger defensive backs. No problem - at least minus pads.
"He just runs around guys," Hawkins said. "And he attacks the ball with his hands. I think he's got a little chip on his shoulder; because of his size he wants to prove something . . . he's exciting."
Hawkins also said Canty "listens when you talk to him" - a trait sometimes missing in incoming freshmen and often older players, too.
NEW DEFENDERS TO WATCH: CU signed two junior college players in 2010 - guard Eric Richter and linebacker Evan Harrington. Richter (Saddleback College) was a mid-term enrollee, Harrington (College of The Canyons) arrived this summer.
According to several Buffs offensive players, Harrington came in eager to impress.
"He's been playing well," senior left tackle Nate Solder said. "I think he'll definitely make a contribution."
Added Cody Hawkins: "He already looks good physically (6-0, 225), and you know when (Brian) Cabral gets a chance to coach him he's going to improve pretty fast."
Harrington was Canyons' leading tackler last season (85) and also posted 11.5 tackles for loss and seven quarterback sacks. He added 10 QB hurries, three forced fumbles and an interception.
Beatty also has been impressed with safety Terrel Smith (5-10, 185): "The guy just seems to want it . . . I don't know if he ever gets tired. I haven't seen many high school guys come in as ready as he is."
Hawkins also said defensive end Chidera Uzo-Diribe, a 6-3, 225-pounder who arrived this week, was easy on the eyes: "Pretty solid guy who moves well . . . I'm anxious to see him in pads."
SUMMER CRITIQUE: Is every summer/off-season at every school characterized as "the best we've had?" Seems to be, but maybe this fall it'll prove valid at CU.
Said Beatty on that subject: "It's been good, the best I think since I've been here as far as attendance, effort, everything. I think I've learned a lot about my weaknesses, where I can improve as a player and a leader - mainly in effort and technique."
Cody Hawkins called this summer's work "a lot more structured . . . we've got some things scripted that have helped us a lot in individual group work. Functionally, I think it's gone a lot better. It's been good, solid mental work."
He said returning players know the physical demands that camp puts on them and will be prepared for those.
The morning conditioning and twice-a-week 7-on-7 work will continue through the end of this month. Before practice begins on Wednesday, Aug. 4, players will take four days off - their final extended break before the season officially begins.