LSU Auburn Football

LSU place kicker Cole Tracy (36) is hoisted on the shoulders of his teammates after kicking the winning field goal to defeat Auburn 22-21 Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018, in Auburn, Ala.

When Cole Tracy's plane landed in Indianapolis for the NFL combine earlier this week, he arrived on somewhat hallowed ground.

It was in Indiana's capital city where the former LSU kicker's mentor, Morten Andersen, began his Pro Football Hall of Fame career at Ben Davis High.

And it was in Lucas Oil Stadium where Adam Vinatieri broke Andersen's all-time record for career field goals made, hitting a 42-yarder for the Colts on Sept. 30.

All of it is purely coincidental. The scouting combine has been in Indianapolis every year since 1987. But both chance and fate would be hard-pressed to find a more fitting location for Tracy to participate in his first NFL-sponsored event.

Tracy was one of three place-kickers invited to the combine, along with Utah's Matt Gay and Austin Seibert — the Oklahoma Sooner with whom Tracy shared a stage at the Senior Bowl in January.

In Indianapolis, NFL coaches and scouts watched Tracy go through a Thursday kicking session, which was closed to media. Tracy's final evaluation period will be at LSU's pro day March 22.

"I did some things well. I did some things I would have wanted back," Tracy told The Advocate on Friday. "But overall, just trying to improve every single day."

Tracy's well-chronicled journey from an unknown graduate transfer from Division II Assumption College to LSU's record-breaking hero has led him to the verge of becoming the first drafted placekicker in LSU history.

Six kickers have been drafted since 2016, but NFL analyst Daniel Jeremiah said teams have become more skeptical of selecting such specialists since Tampa Bay cut its 2016 second-round pick, Robert Aguayo, after he recorded the league's lowest field-goal percentage during his rookie year.

So when Tracy flew out to Atlanta a few weeks ago to train with Andersen ahead of the combine, his mentor continued to speak candidly with him about what to expect.

"What we're trying to do here is a high-performance business," said Andersen, who met Tracy at the Walter Camp Football Foundation dinner in January 2018. "We're trying to get him to the highest level he can go. That entails some conversations that aren't pleasant and comfortable."

Unpleasant conversation No. 1: The competitiveness and volatility of the kicking world.

Sixteen NFL kickers have been cut since August, and a large pool of specialists is fighting for the remaining roster spots on teams that aren't already set at the position.

"You're not going to come and take Justin Tucker's job, or Stephen Gostkowski's job," Andersen said. "There's some teams where you can say, 'I'm not going there.' He has to create for himself a scenario where he stands out and he differentiates. You show your team that you're organized, structured, prepared."

Those three words were the hallmark of Andersen's 25-year career, during which he kept a spiral notebook that logged every kick he'd ever attempted in a game — including the 13 game-winning kicks he made in 13 seasons with the New Orleans Saints from 1982-94.

Andersen had his makes, like the game-winning 39-yarder that sent the Atlanta Falcons to the Super Bowl in 1998, and he had his misses.

He told Tracy to prepare for both.

"I think it's a big thing to have accountability," Andersen said. "Not pointing the finger if you do fail. You have to move forward with stubbornness and never waver. I think those are all qualities Cole has in him."

Tracy bounced back from a bad day at the Senior Bowl, when he missed several kicks in blustery conditions on the first day of practice, then finished the weekend by going 2-for-2 from 33 and 43 yards in the all-star game.

"If he'd s*** the bed two days in a row, that would have been a disaster," Andersen said. "He handled it, coped with it. That shows all those coaches, 'This kid's resilient. This guy's not going to go away just because he had a bad day.’ ”

There was proof of such resiliency during the 2018 season, when Tracy missed a 53-yarder in the first half against Auburn, then kicked the game-winning 42-yarder as time expired. He missed a 49-yarder early in what would be a seven-overtime loss to Texas A&M in the regular season finale, and then he made all four of his field goals in LSU's Fiesta Bowl victory over Central Florida.

But Andersen said he and Tracy have spent "much more time on the process versus the result," diving into the routine and committing to the craft, owning the time between practice and games, to the point where he'll be prepared for a short kick early in a game or a long one late.

Once Tracy does that, Andersen said, pressure becomes a non-factor.

"I don't even like using the word," Andersen said. "Pressure is the perception on a situation. It can be real, or it can be fake. It depends where your beliefs are grounded. If your beliefs are based in a solid foundation, then you should be fine. If you're founded in uncertainty, you're not going to feel comfortable."

So just how does Tracy view the turbulent future?

"I'm not worried about that," Tracy said. "I know how tough it all is. I'm not thinking about all that. I'm just trying to do the best I can."

Advocate sportswriter Rod Walker contributed to this report.