Renan Baeta found his footing in football in the seventh grade.
A backup cornerback on the ‘C’ team at McMeans Junior High, Baeta decided to try out as a kicker. He nailed a couple of field goals and was promoted to the ‘A’ team.
“From there on out, I loved football,” Baeta said.
And the Taylor Mustangs love Baeta.
Now a junior kicker for the 7-5 Mustangs, who are headed to the regional semifinals for the first time since 2008, Baeta is a dominant weapon and consistent source of offense. He has connected on 14 of 19 field goals, with a season-best make of 46 yards, and 37 of 39 extra-point attempts.
In all, Baeta has scored 79 points this season, an average of 6.6 per game.
“He’s awesome,” junior defensive back Trevor Woods said. “He loves football, he loves the grind. He’s always out there working. Literally every day, he’s out there kicking, all day long.
“I think he’s one of the best kickers in the state. He’s the real deal.”
Baeta was not called upon to attempt a field goal in the Mustangs’ 21-14 area playoff win over Houston Memorial on Nov. 23. But in Taylor’s 51-41 bi-district playoff win a week earlier, Baeta was clutch.
He connected on three field goals of 45, 40 and 26 yards, respectively, and all six of his extra-point attempts.
“For him, it’s about his technique and his work ethic,” coach Chad Simmons said. “He’s pretty sure from around 45 yards; we get there, he’s got a good shot at making one. That’s huge this time of year.”
Baeta credits his success to his training. He kicks every weekend with a personal trainer. His range is seemingly limitless; he connected on a 61-yard field goal attempt in practice earlier this season. In games, he said he is comfortable kicking as far out as 52 yards.
A deep breath prior to attempting field goals is important to his approach, Baeta said.
“I put my tee down, line it up where I want it to go,” he said. “I take my steps, I line up and I take a deep breath. That deep breath just shuts everything off in my mind. Then I’m ready to go, and all I have to do is kick.”
Baeta makes sure to hit the “sweet spot” of the ball, which for him is just below the middle. He concentrates on planting appropriately with his opposite leg, making sure he is set the right amount of measurements from the ball. Always, he remembers to follow through.
Laces out, of course, because it gives a softer target.
“I’m very confident in myself,” Baeta said. “I know what I can do. I just have to go out there and put it through the posts.”
As talented as he is on field goals, however, Baeta is just as skilled on kick-offs, Simmons said.
Baeta averages 53.2 yards per kickoff and has 28 touchbacks on 66 kickoffs this season.
“Getting the ball up high on a pooch, or kicking it down to the end zone and not giving the other team a chance to return it,” Simmons said. “That’s as big as anything.”
Baeta is a native of Brazil. He came to the United States in 2011, when he was 8-years-old.
Since he began playing football, Baeta has always had a calm, established poise when kicking. The stress, pressure and scrutiny that come with being a kicker never fazes him.
Perhaps it’s because Baeta has been kicking since he was 3-years-old, when he started playing soccer. Or maybe it’s because he has overcome much more, reminding himself every game that he is playing for his late mother, who passed away in 2005.
Baeta and his older brother were forced to mature quickly, assuming more and heavier responsibilities as their father had to work for two parents to support the family.
“It did make me grow up faster than I should have,” Baeta said, “but it just affects football in the way that I have someone watching me at all times, so I have to be the best I can for her.”