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September 13, 2013

ND's man for all things kicking

Like a starting pitcher, where there are only so many pitches in an arm over the course of a season, a football place-kicker - particularly one who "triples" as the kickoff man and punter - has to monitor how many leg swings takes you up to the point of diminishing returns.

What Notre Dame's Kyle Brindza does during the week of a 12-game regular season isn't always as important as what he doesn't do.

Sometimes, a good day is limited activity.

"We're definitely like pitchers," said Brindza, who converted all three of his field-goal attempts against Michigan - from 44, 24 and 40 yards - while also averaging 40 yards per his two punts and limiting the Wolverines' punt and kick return game.

"When I go out (to practice), and I have a certain amount of field goals on a day, I'm not going to go over that (limit). If I go under it, that's fine. If I go over it, that's something I need to pull myself back from.

"I go out every day with, 'Here's your threshold.' If you go over that threshold, that's when you know you may start getting fatigued. Even though my body might feel good, I'm still going to have a number count, otherwise I might wake up the next day like, 'Wow, I feel horrible!'"

Brindza may have a threshold to the number of kicks/punts attempted per day, but there appear to be few limits for this combination of all things kicking. Brindza set a Notre Dame single-season record last year when he converted 23-of-31 field goals.

This year, with the graduation of four-year starter Ben Turk, the punting game has been added to his chores. He's also handled kickoffs since his arrival in 2011, converting 71 attempts into 26 touchbacks a year ago. So far this season, half of his 12 kickoffs have been downed in the end zone.

"For me, it's getting into the training room, and I do that day-in and day-out," said Brindza, who takes advantage of the benefits of Notre Dame's post-practice ice baths.

"We can talk about my drop and walking my line and all that, but the biggest area where I think I've grown is getting into the training room and being able to understand that I need my body to be able to punt and kick. I have to take care of my body."

Brindza also is known among teammates as the "stretchingest" player on the team.

"I've probably gotten 10 times more flexible since I've been here because I've been able to focus on my body and understand my body more than I used to," Brindza said. "Yeah, I have power. Yeah, I'm flexible. Now it's being able to incorporate and understand my body when I need to stop."

In the spring, when Brian Kelly asked Brindza to put kicking on the backburner and work on developing into Turk's successor, the road ahead was measured in miles. Brindza was "feeling" for the football as a punter, uncertain of his motion, timing and everything that went with the position. The Irish brought in Wake Forest punter Alex Wulfeck and walk-on Andrew Antognoli just in case.

But save for pooch punts - which remain a work in progress, as evidenced by the Temple game when two attempts sailed into the end zone - all signs point to a confident, powerful punter with tremendous upside.

"I've come a long way (as a punter)," smiled Brindza. "I already had the muscle memory of kicking. Now I understand punting, and that's pretty much going into each day focusing on one thing and being able to instill that in your brain.

"I've gotten a lot more confident since the spring when it was my first time rolling with the ones. Now I'm used to it. I've been in the environment of all these different stadiums. I'm calm and cool now, like I was last year with the field goals. I'm able to add that to my résumé."

Kelly had hoped to give Brindza a break from all the leg swings by taking advantage of fifth-year senior kicker Nick Tausch, who set a Notre Dame record way back in 2009 when he converted 14 straight field goals.

But injuries to Tausch opened the door for David Ruffer, who became a record-holder in his own right. Brindza then beat out Tausch in the pre-season of 2012. Now, handling every aspect of the punting/kicking game has become part of Brindza's routine.

Brindza punts exclusively one day a week, focuses on kicking the next day, and then combines the two skills in a final workout on Thursday.

"It's hard doing all the kicks, but for me, I'm kind of a 'mental' guy," Brindza said. "As you can see, I love pressure.

"My mentality is if you've done it a thousand times, why can't you do it again? If you do your mechanics right, it's going to be a great ball."

Repetition has taken care of the rest, as well as knowing when the next rep is one too many.

"I just focus on one thing at a time," Brindza said. "It's kind of like your studies. When it's football, it's time to focus on football; when it's study time, it's time to focus on studying. When it's time to give it a rest, I rest.

"I anticipated this the whole time. I came in here as a combo guy and expected to be a combo guy."

And then some.





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