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March 8, 2014

ND's man for all things kicking

Kyle Brindza can’t stand the idea of being viewed as “a typical kicker.”

That’s why he’s built more like a linebacker at 6-foot-0 ¾, 236 pounds than the prototypical “specialist.”

“I’m pretty sure you can ask a lot of other people. I’m not the typical kicker,” said Brindza, who enters his senior season this fall after converting a Notre Dame-record 43 field goals in a two-year span. “I’m not the wimpy kid who’s not going to work out and go do my own thing.
 
“I’m the first one here. I’m pretty much the last one out just because I’m willing to work extra. I have my eyes on a higher prize.”

The prizes are the most coveted in college football - a national championship and the Lou Groza Award, signifying college football’s top kicker. And when Brindza talks about playing an instrumental role in Notre Dame’s 2014 success, he includes himself as one of the leaders of the band.

“I can definitely be a leader on this team,” Brindza said. “I want to be just like a quarterback, seen as a person that will take the step to the next level.”

The fact that the Irish have had such wildly successful kickers in succession is rather remarkable. Before Brindza, there was David Ruffer, who converted his first five field-goal attempts in 2009, 18-of-19 in 2010, and then a pedestrian 10-of-16 in his final season to conclude his spectacular collegiate career at 33-of-40 (.825).

Brindza’s aspirations point to Ruffer’s 2010 season when he was nearly perfect. Perfection is not some pie-in-the-sky, unattainable goal in Brindza’s mind.

“It sets them higher,” said Brindza of his goals when asked to reflect on his 5-of-6 performance against Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl. “Everything is set higher. Even if I had had a bad game (against Rutgers), they’d be higher.

“Sophomore, junior year, now my senior year…it doesn’t matter what year it is, you’ve always got to set that bar one level higher because if you keep it the same or lower, you get complacent. I have my eyes on a higher prize than last year. That’s how I’ve always been. I’m not the typical kicker who’s going to be complacent.”

Brindza’s career field-goal percentage (.754 - 23-of-31 in ’12, 20-of-26 in ’13) is all the more remarkable considering where he has had to attempt about 40 percent of his kicks. The Notre Dame Stadium grass - which is expected to be replaced by some form of artificial turf by the fall - is one of the trickiest surfaces in college football.

The numbers bear out the difficulty of kicking in Notre Dame Stadium. Brindza is 16-of-23 at home (.695) on field-goal attempts and 27-of-34 (.794) elsewhere.  He offers no excuses and seeks none.

“I don’t think I can comment on that,” laughed Brindza when asked about the condition of the Notre Dame Stadium turf. “It’s tough for me, but put any field in front of me, I’ll go kick. It doesn’t matter to me. Just give me a field and I’m good.”

Likewise, ask Brindza to add punting duties and he’s all for the challenge. After a shaky start to his punting career against Temple in last year’s season-opener when he blasted a couple of potential pooch punts into the end zone, Brindza expects much more of himself, especially now that pooch-punt specialist Alex Wulfeck is gone.

“It’s just another task I like to take on,” Brindza said. “I don’t want to be seen as that one-trick person. I want to be known as the person who can do it all and be focused on the big picture rather than the smaller picture so I can make a bigger impact.”

Even Brindza’s kickoffs improved from 26 touchbacks on 71 kickoffs in 2012 (.366) to 35-of-75 (.466) in 2013, which became an important weapon the more Notre Dame’s kick-coverage team struggled.

Brindza’s confidence level in everything he does is off the chart.

“I’m good at pool and I’m good at Pop-A-Shot,” Brindza said. “Let’s just say my Pop-A-Shot record will stand until they remove that game.”

Heading into his senior season, no task is too tall for the Canton, Mich., product.

“I’ve kicked in big environments,” Brindza said. “The national championship game. USC to go to the national championship game. Pinstripe Bowl. Oklahoma. Stanford…I’m a confident kid. It’s understanding that it’s the same thing every day. I do this on a regular basis. Why can’t I do it now?

“From my perspective, it’s focusing on the little things: your form, zoning out everything, catch the ball and just do you. If you do yourself, everything falls into place.”






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