Resilient Irish kicker Kyle Brindza won’t be left kicking himself
BY MARK LAZERUS firstname.lastname@example.org December 31, 2012 8:39PM
Notre Dame's Kyle Brindza (27) makes his a field goal against Southern California during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012, in Los Angeles. Notre Dame won 22-13. (AP Photo/Danny Moloshok)
The facts: 7:30 p.m. Jan. 7 at Sun Life Stadium, Miami Gardens, Fla.
TV: ESPN. Line: Alabama by 10.
Updated: February 2, 2013 6:21AM
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Kyle Brindza never received a formal ultimatum from Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly. He never was told flat-out that if he missed another kick, he would lose his job.
Not in so many words, at least.
“He just said, ‘Don’t miss,’ ’’ Brindza recalled with a laugh. “Pretty much the same idea.”
That uplifting conversation came in the wake of Notre Dame’s 30-13 victory at Oklahoma on Oct. 27. The high-water mark for the Irish included both a low point and a high point for their sophomore kicker. After missing two field goals in a narrow victory against BYU, he missed a 35-yard field goal against the Sooners in the third quarter of a tie game.
Kelly pulled Brindza aside and said he was “shaking my confidence.” But Brindza proceeded to split the uprights on kicks of 44 and 46 yards in the fourth quarter to help the Irish pull off their biggest victory of the season.
“It was probably one of the biggest games we’ve had,” Brindza said. “For me to be able to go out there and not just be able to make a kick, but to be able to bounce back, that was the biggest thing.”
Kickers — like cornerbacks — need to have short memories. The loneliest and most pressure-packed position on the field is no place for a guy who’s doubting himself. That mental resilience is one of the things Kelly loves about his kicker, who set a team record with 23 field goals this season (breaking John Carney’s 1986 mark of 21) despite not taking over the job until Week 2, after senior Nick Tausch was injured.
“When we’ve needed that big kick, when the game’s on the line, he’s delivered every single time,” Kelly said. “What I like about him is he doesn’t get rattled. He may miss one here or there, but there’s generally not a pattern. He’ll generally come back and make one. It’s good to have someone who doesn’t get down on himself and can fight through a miss here or there.”
And there have been a few misses — nine, all told. Even after the Oklahoma game — and the not-so-veiled ultimatum from Kelly — it only got worse a week later. In a harrowing triple-overtime victory against Pittsburgh at home, Brindza missed another field goal and blew an extra point, forcing quarterback Everett Golson to bail him out with a two-point conversion run late in the fourth quarter.
But he again responded with a 37-yard field goal in the first overtime to keep the game alive. Three weeks later, he set a school record with five makes (in six tries) in the season finale at USC.
Of course, big-time kicks are nothing new to Brindza. In high school, he set a Michigan state record with 19 field goals as a senior, making 6-for-9 from 50 yards or more. He nailed a 47-yarder into the wind in one playoff victory and kicked the game-winner in the regional championship in the final minute.
So he’s well aware that the Jan. 7 national championship game against Alabama — likely to be a relatively low-scoring, defensive struggle — might come down to his right foot. And he welcomes the opportunity, no matter what happens leading up to that moment.
“When I started kicking, I realized you don’t have as many opportunities as you would in soccer to put points on the board,” Brindza said. “I learned that my freshman year of high school. My coach instilled that in me, that confidence, that composure. Those are the key aspects you need to have after you miss a kick, so you’re able to still have the confidence to make the next one.”