STILLWATER — Bring up last season's Iowa State game to Quinn Sharp, and a look of disappointment immediately crosses his face.
There's a difference, though, between being disappointed and dwelling.
Of course, Sharp still wishes he would have made the 37-yard field goal attempt late in regulation that likely would have given Oklahoma State the victory over the Cyclones — and a spot in the national championship game. In fact, he still thinks the ball did sneak just inside the right upright. Plenty of Cowboy supporters think it did, too, including coach Mike Gundy's oldest son, Gavin, who often proclaims to Dad that the kick was good.
But Sharp, simply, has moved on.
“The kick comes back (when someone says “Iowa State”), just like everybody expects,” Sharp said. “But it's one of those things — I've looked at it, I've thought about it, but it's in the past.
“You can't let something like that linger on you, because it will affect you the rest of your way, and I don't want to hinder the team with something like that.”
The results certainly show Sharp has put that kick behind him. He made the game-winning field goal in overtime of the Fiesta Bowl to cap the best season in OSU history. And he's continued to be one of the Cowboys' top weapons in 2012, most recently picking up the Big 12's Special Teams Player of the Week award after he was arguably Oklahoma State's MVP against Kansas.
How exactly did Sharp get over a miss that could have kept haunting him?
In the hours and days that followed that game, he leaned on support of teammates, as well as his parents and friends back home in Mansfield, Texas. He's one of the players who on a regular basis sees Stillwater hypnotherapist Paige Wacker, who focuses on mental performance training and teaching athletes how to visualize success.
And he also received encouraging phone calls and messages from the community of college kickers and punters across the country, including Oklahoma's Tress Way, Georgia's Blair Walsh (now of the Minnesota Vikings), Purdue's Carson Wiggs (now an NFL free agent).
The general message was simple — “keep your head up.”
“That was nice for them to kind of reach out and just tell me that they were there,” Sharp said. “That I had been doing good the whole year, and it was just one of those kicks that didn't go my way that day.”
Sharp is aware that kickers and specialists are often viewed as a unique breed of football player. Gundy even half-jokes that he never talks to those players, because they think, prepare and practice differently.
But the job creates a bond between college kickers, usually starting when they begin attending the same camps as high schoolers. Sharp describes those workouts as a combination of jokes and fun, and intense competition. Then they check in with each other periodically throughout the season, especially during those low points while fulfilling a sometimes thankless and isolated role on the team.
Way, who has known Sharp since they were juniors in high school, certainly knows how it feels. In 2009, Way made just 1 of his 6 field goal attempts, including three misses in a 10-3 loss to Nebraska.
“The reason I called him (after the Iowa State loss) is that we're pretty tight,” Way said. “He's one incredible kicker and punter, so it's been fun competing against him in the same conference, but we actually knew each other before either one of us had an offer.”
From those conversations, Sharp was reminded to get back to his routine, relax, trust himself and to not over-think things. And soon, his mind was back in the right spot.
The Fiesta Bowl, of course, gave Sharp a quick chance at redemption. He called that opportunity “very rewarding.” But Sharp also admitted it was “hard to watch” Stanford kicker Jordan Williamson miss the potential game-winner from 35 yards out as time expired in regulation and a 43-yarder in overtime.
Sharp's been there. Most kickers have.
That positive end to last season has carried over to 2012, where the reigning Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year has continued to shine. Sharp is averaging 47.5 yards per punt, including two that went more than 70 yards last week against Kansas. He's boomed 31 touchbacks on 37 kickoffs. He's made 9 of his 12 field goal attempts, including a career-long 51-yarder against Louisiana-Lafayette.
And he had his best all-around game of the season — and perhaps his career — against the Jayhawks, averaging 53 yards per punt, connecting on 2-of-3 field goals (49 and 42 yards) and tallying four touchbacks on five kickoffs. He also made potentially a touchdown-saving tackle on a kickoff return and all but sealed the Cowboy victory when he drew a roughing- the-kicker penalty on a punt that gave OSU a first down late in the fourth quarter.
“It definitely shows Quinn does have a lot of resilience,” Cowboys linebacker Alex Elkins said, “because he bounced back, had a very short memory from (the ISU game). But that's how you've got to be as a player on this team. You can't remember things like that. You can't remember the losses.
“If you are going to remember anything, you've got to remember the pain you felt and know that you don't want to feel that again.”
So, Sharp still feels disappointment when thinking back to that November night in Ames.
But almost 11 months later, he's mentally come to terms with the miss, with the help of his kicking fraternity buddies, his family and teammates and, ultimately, his own mind.
“To be great, to be successful,” Sharp said, “you have to train yourself to let go and just tell yourself there's going to be another opportunity, and I have to capitalize.”