This time last season, Cairo Santos just hoped to stick in the NFL past training camp.
Now, Santos is comfortably nestled into the role as Chiefs kicker after going 25 of 30 on field goals and connecting on all 38 extra points as a rookie in 2014.
Santos, who beat out veteran incumbent Ryan Succop for the Chiefs’ kicking job in training camp last summer, enters his second season unchallenged for his roster spot.
Of course, Santos, a native of Sao Paulo, Brazil, is trying not to think in those terms.
“It doesn’t matter if there’s someone here or not,” Santos said Wednesday after organized team activities wrapped up. “The expectation is still very high. I still need to make all my kicks and kick off well. I’m approaching it like there is someone here and I want to continue to prove to these guys that I’m the only guy they need.”
Santos is enjoying the extra reps in practice. He said it’s allowed him to get into a better rhythm, especially working a pair of new long snappers in James Winchester and Andrew East.
The biggest adjustment last season was the elements.
Santos, who boomed 26 of 80 kickoffs for touchbacks, vividly remembers playing for Tulane in a rainy game with temperatures in the upper 30s during the last game of his freshman season.
It was the coldest game Santos, who primarily kicked indoors in college, had ever played in before taking the field at Arrowhead Stadium for November and December games.
“Coming out of college, I knew I still had a lot to prove, because I kicked indoors and most of the NFL stadiums are outdoors,” Santos said. “Having that year under my belt and having a good percentage, it wasn’t great and I can still improve a lot … but I think proved that I belonged. Now, I want to stay here.”
He didn’t always feel that way.
“I can’t deny that it felt different from a preseason game or from a college game,” Santos said. “I played in a bowl game in college, but that kind of adrenaline that I felt in the first regular-season game just feels different. It took me a little while to feel comfortable and have fun. That was the key … and that’s when I started to hit my stride.”
Santos’ second season with the Chiefs already has been more fun than pressure-packed, but he’s still not looking forward to those winter games.
“Fortunately, we have really good gear, long sleeves and leggings we can put on,” Santos said. “There’s a heater and benchwarmers, so I stay really comfortable during the whole game. The only time you’re cold is when you’re on the field, but the adrenaline kicks in then and it really isn’t a problem. The ball being hard and not going as far is the biggest challenge.”