BATON ROUGE — On Sept. 15, 2017, there were 818 fans watching as Cole Tracy kicked three field goals to help Division 2 Assumption College beat Southern Connecticut State on the road.
Exactly one year later, he was again on a football field, kicking for the visitors. As time expired, he nailed a 42-yard field goal to lift Louisiana State over Auburn, 22-21.
There were 86,787 mostly hostile fans and nearly 6 million television viewers nationwide.
Talk about panache: Tracy started celebrating on the sidelines before the kick.
Back in Worcester, his former teammates were cheering him in the Assumption dorms.
“He looked like he normally did,” said Seamus Wallace, the Greyhounds’ punter. “He was pumped, he was giving people high-fives before he was walking out on the field.”
“It’s insane,” said Assumption long snapper Bryce Jacob. ”He’s just so calm, cool, and collected.”
The Southern California native, dubbed the “Cali Kid” by his teammates, credits his success to former Assumption coach Bob Chesney, who used to have the entire team line up on the hash marks and raise hell as the kickers practiced field goals.
“It was their responsibility and their job to kind of put me in a hostile environment,” said Tracy, who joined the Tigers this fall as a graduate transfer student. “If I did miss, they would have to run, so it put them in a bad situation.”
Win or lose, the drill was entertaining.
“Just screaming noise, throwing towels, throwing balls, spraying water on the ball, and turf beads,” Jacob said. “Then Cole kicks it and he usually made them all and saved the team from conditioning.”
Tracy smiled at the memory, and said his Assumption teammates would be unhappy if he missed.
As loud as it got, Tracy asked for more.
“I’d ask them to blast the crowd music over the intercom where people can hear it on the other side of campus,” he said. “I got to the point where that was comfortable.”
Tracy kicked a field goal and three extra points to help LSU beat Louisiana Tech before 102,321 at LSU’s Tiger Stadium in September. He thinks the Assumption kicking drill has helped his transition to the highest level of college football.
“I think that’s what helped prepare me for this, to be honest,” he said. “I was confident and I knew that the transition was going to be OK.”
He insists he wasn’t hot-dogging it on the sidelines when he was spotted laughing before the winning kick against Auburn.
“I’ve just had this thing ingrained in my mind that if the kicker looks like he’s terrified, chances are he usually misses,” Tracy said.
Tracy doesn’t miss much. He’s 12 for 14 on field goals and perfect in PATs (20 for 20) for the 13th-ranked Tigers.
He is Assumption’s all-time leader in field goals and points. Last year, he led Division 2 in field goals (27) and field goal percentage (93.1).
He calls his time there “the best four years of my life.”
After redshirting his freshman year, he graduated with a degree in marketing. With one more year of eligibility, he got a surprise phone call from LSU. He decided to move up to the FBS level and try to get the attention of NFL teams.
LSU coach Ed Orgeron was criticized for offering one of 25 full scholarships to a small-college kicker.
“He stuck his neck out for me,” Tracy said. “I know everybody has the same question: Is the D2 kid going to be able to play in a Tiger Stadium or AT&T Stadium?”
That question was answered on opening day when Tracy kicked an LSU-record-tying 54-yarder and three other field goals vs. Miami on the Dallas Cowboys’ home field.
It’s all the same to him. The uprights are the same size as they were in Worcester, and the holders are exactly 8 yards away.
“The only difference that I have is that we kicked Nikes [footballs] here while we kicked Wilsons up in Massachusetts,” he said.
He never aims for the goalposts. That’s something he’s discussed with Morten Andersen, the NFL’s all-time leading scorer, who was introduced to Tracy by an Assumption administrator on a trip to Yale.
“You’ve got to be able to look past the goalpost, because if you’re looking at the uprights, you’re not going to have a lot of success,” Tracy said.
Tracy always aims for a specific spot. At one end of Assumption’s multi-sport stadium (seating capacity 1,500), that meant the top branch of a tall pine tree, nestled in a grove of oaks.
At Tiger Stadium, he takes aims for the “D” in the “Welcome to Death Valley” sign in the end zone.
“It’s exactly in the middle and about as high as that tree,” he said.
Cole Mania has swept the New Orleans area.
“Cole As Ice” proclaimed the front page of the Baton Rouge Advocate after the Auburn game.
When Tracy went to a luncheon sponsored by the Bengal Belles, an LSU booster club, he knew he was a long way from Assumption.
“I’ve never been to anything like this,” he said. “There was hundreds of women and LSU fans and they had their pompoms there and they were hooting and hollering.”
Some fans are even sending money to Assumption: $54 for his longest kick. $42 for beating Auburn. Or $42.36, the Auburn kick plus his uniform number. One anonymous fan wrote a check for $5,000. They’ve sent more than 200 donations totaling almost $16,000.
“That’s freakin’ awesome,” Tracy texted to Tim Stanton, Assumption’s vice president for institutional advancement.
Stanton wants the money to be used for a video scoreboard.
“He wants to give every bit of joy he’s received back to Assumption College,” Stanton said. “He’s a special kid.”
He said he loves LSU, but he can’t wait to go out to dinner with his Assumption friends when he returns for homecoming weekend.
Asked if he prefers gumbo or chowder, he didn’t hesitate.
“I’m a clam chowder guy, to be honest,” he said. “All the LSU fans are going to hate me for that. But yeah, I loved New England clam chowder. It’s good stuff.”
Stan Grossfeld can be reached at Grossfeld@globe.com