RALEIGH — Josh Czajkowski never veers from his pregame routine.
Why would he? Heading into Thursday night's home game against 16th-ranked Florida State, the senior place-kicker from Springfield, Va., is tied for fifth in N.C. State history with 219 career points.
He holds the school record with 105 career extra points, and at one point kicked a school-record 83 in a row without a miss. He has made 82.6 percent of his career field-goal attempts, fourth-best in school history.
Czajkowski said a "very superstitious" routine lies behind those numbers.
He always puts on his right shoe followed by his left shoe. He listens to the same songs in the same order to put himself in the proper mind frame.
On his left wrist, he always wears some kind of bracelet.
He jokes that people think place-kickers in football are "mental cases," but Czajkowski's laid-back demeanor smashes that stereotype.
"I just try to stay levelheaded and not worry about everything else, not worry about the stats," he said. "You miss a kick, you come back and make the next 20. That's my thing. You've got to take it easy and not worry too much on one kick."
N.C. State coach Tom O'Brien said it's not unusual for players to have superstitions. In a way, it makes sense for a kicker to be married to a routine. O'Brien compares the mechanics of a place-kicker to those of a golf swing because they need to be the same every time.
He said Czajkowski has shown the discipline to bounce back when he has missed kicks. O'Brien said being around an accomplished kicker in 2007 in Steven Hauschka (who was recently cut by the Detroit Lions after two NFL seasons) helped Czajkowski develop proper mechanics and a good mental approach early in his career.
Czajkowski, a third-year starter, has posted numbers similar to those of Hauschka, who made 16 of his 18 field-goal attempts in 2007 in his one year at N.C. State. Czajkowski was 16-for-19 in 2008, 10-for-12 last season and is 12-for-15 so far in 2010.
"He's certainly been very good kicking the football on field goals and extra points," O'Brien said. "He's been pretty steady throughout his career. He's increased his distance. As years have gone on, he's matured and got stronger."
Czajkowski doesn't pretend the records don't matter to him. He considers himself part of a small team within the team, a partner in a delicate and highly precise operation with long snapper Michael Maurer and holder Corey Tedder.
Their job is to score points, so Czajkowski admits that he's happy to be doing that at a prolific pace. He would like to set more records, and also has a dream yet to be fulfilled.
He has 38 career field goals but has yet to make a winning kick in the closing seconds of a game. This season he kicked a 42-yard field goal with 4 minutes, 42 seconds left against Virginia Tech and a 37-yarder with 2:59 remaining in the game against East Carolina.
Both kicks gave the Wolfpack a lead, but each time the opponent came back to win.
"They're all big kicks," Czajkowski said. "They all mean something. The tying ones and go-ahead ones are my favorite, because people think you're going to crush under pressure, and you really don't."
If the pregame routine is always the same and his mechanics consistent, each kick should be the same. That's the approach that has helped Czajkowski thrive as he chases more records and hopes for the opportunity to deliver a winner.
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