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October 10, 2013

Deep breath, deep kick

Kyle Brindza’s 12 converted fourth-quarter field goals in 12 chances may not be on the same level as Mariano Rivera’s 694 career saves with the New York Yankees, but in a way, the latter beget the former.

Though Brindza grew up less than an hour from Detroit and is “all Detroit Tigers,” he cites Rivera as his favorite all-time athlete of any sport. Brindza tries to mirror the unflappable closer’s reliability in clutch situations, even after a recent failure.

“You look at what he’s done,” Brindza said Tuesday. “Maybe he doesn’t save (every) game, but obviously he’s able to bounce back.

“That’s one of the biggest things I have. I’m able to bounce back from anything…That’s definitely one of the things that he’s done and has inspired me to do.”

Brindza has not met with failure often, converting 73.8 percent of his college field goal attempts. If he makes his next one, he will pass John Carney for second in Notre Dame career percentage. He’s yet to miss in the fourth quarter.

“I would say he’s a pretty clutch guy in the fourth quarter,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said following Notre Dame’s win over Arizona State, in which Brindza made two fourth-quarter field goals, including one to break a 27-27, as well as a 53-yarder in the third quarter to tie a Notre Dame record set 37 years ago. “He just has that feeling that he’s a clutch player for us and he has been since he’s been here.”

Brindza avoids the need to bounce back from a mistake by relying on his routine, just as the great Mariano does before each pitch.

“People say that I’m clutch, but really it’s just me doing the ordinary basic things whenever my team needs me, calls my number,” Brindza said. “I tell myself all the time, ‘I’ve made this kick a thousand times in practice, why can’t you do it now? There’s just people watching. It’s just another kick, another chance to make a field goal.’”

While Brindza mimics the quiet confidence of the now-retired Rivera, he also imitates the actions of an athlete only three years his senior. The other big differences between this mentor and Rivera: Blair Walsh and Brindza share professions, and Brindza has actually met the Minnesota Vikings kicker. From the 2012 Pro Bowler, the junior kicker has picked up yoga and an understanding of his own body.

“He’s definitely a big help in the off-season, even just shooting a text back and forth here and there. ‘What’d you do right? What’d you do wrong?’” Brindza said of his continued learning from Walsh. “When you have someone like that in the League, the level above you, and you’ve gone through so much, it’s a big confidence-booster.”

His Irish teammates are well aware of Brindza’s confidence, whether it derives from a closer’s routine or a successful mentor. As such, though kickers are often viewed as odd ducks -- former Irish holder Ryan Kavanagh once described kickers as “head-cases” -- those chasing after Brindza’s kickoffs are not shy to give him grief in practice. Along with lining up the field goal or the kickoff, the most obvious part of Brindza’s routine is copious deep breaths. When he doesn’t take them in practice, senior Kendall Moore reminds him.

“So I started doing them,” Brindza said, seemingly about to take a deep breath as an example. “That’s one of the biggest things everybody notices about me. I take very deep breaths, just to be able to calm my nerves.”

Both in practice and in the fourth quarter, those deep breaths have instilled a deep confidence in Brindza.

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