A homecoming for TCU true freshman kicker Easton Black during bowl season was not too far-fetched, if the Horned Frogs’ destination was the Guaranteed Rate Bowl Dec. 27 at Chase Field.
Instead, TCU is the #3 team in the country, playing No. 2 Michigan in a College Football Playoff at the Fiesta Bowl in State Farm Stadium in Glendale — less than 20 minutes away from where Easton grew up in Peoria.
The Sunrise Mountain alum’s quick return in one of College football’s biggest games required a bit of magic. Black stated in a Twitter interview that for a team picked seventh in Big 12 preseason media poll reaching the CFP seemed like an unreachable dream.
But when senior kicker Griffin Kell, a mentor for Black, hit a 40-yard field goal as the clock expired to give TCU a 29-28 win at Baylor Nov. 19, the Horned Frogs were 11-0 and the reality of what this team was doing sunk in. It was a year of special moments.
“One for me would be when we were playing Oklahoma State and we were down in the first half. We didn’t say anything to each other at half time, and we completely changed our mindset. We locked in. Then go out there and perform to win the game,” Black said. “This team is just filled with all of the most unselfish men ever. They only care about others and before themselves.”
The fairy tale almost ended Dec. 3, when Kansas State upset TCU 31-28 in overtime to win the Big 12 Championship game.
Black said it was nerve-wracking to have to handle that loss, and it put a little chip on the Horned Frogs' shoulders. The team did not have to wait long to find out if it stayed in the top four.
“The next day of the playoff selection I knew that we would make it in, but we just never know until it happened. All of our players and coaches were fully confident that we would make it no questions asked,” Black said.
Not only did TCU make the CFP, the team stayed at the #3 ranking, paving the path to the Fiesta Bowl.
Black was back in the West Valley, where he started as kicker and punter for three years at Sunrise Mountain. He became the most decorated kicker in Arizona, and played for the Mustangs 2020 5A state champions.
“It is unbelievable that I am able to be in this game at the semifinals. It adds another level that I grew up watching the Fiesta Bowl as a kid and now being in that position,” Black said. “Yes, we have had full-day schedules every day that we have been here, but I have had the chance to spend some good quality time with all of my family.”
The Horned Frogs’ itinerary has been packed since landing at Sky Harbor Dec. 24. Sunrise Mountain coach Steve Decker caught up with Easton’s parents, John and Cyndi Black at the Arizona Fellowship of Christian Athletes Fiesta Bowl breakfast on Dec. 28.
Decker said he’s thrilled for Easton and his parents — whom he called “super people” — for getting this unexpected gift.
“His parents raised such a good kid. He worked so hard to excel academically and worked so hard on his kicking,” Decker said.
Black has not attempted a kick or kicked off this season, but is able to learn from Kell and junior James Koshakji.
“From what I heard from his parents, the older kickers have really taken Easton under their wings,” Decker said.
As of Friday, the Horned Frogs were 7.5-point underdogs against the undefeated Wolverines.
That’s fine with TCU, who picked up big wins against Oklahoma and Texas
“Saturday couldn’t come any faster for myself and the team. We have been the underdog before and we have thrived. If we stick to doing our job then we will be successful,” Black said. “It helps keep us in the right frame of mind in preparation for this game being the underdog. It also adds a little more to our side of it when we finally get to lay the first hit on Michigan.”