Jonathan Doerer Vying To Be Notre Dame's Top Kicker In 2019
The 2019 football season at Notre Dame marks the year of succession plans on special teams.
• Four-year starting kicker Justin Yoon (2015-18) departs holding the school records in most points scored (367), field goals converted (59) and best field-goal percentage (.808, with at least 40 made).
• Four-year starting punter Tyler Newsome’s 44.0 career average finished only 0.1 behind Craig Hentrich (1989-92), who played 16 years in the NFL, for best average per punt in school annals, and Newsome also was the first kicking specialist ever at the school to be elected a team captain.
• Even long-snapping got into the act this week when top-rated Alex Peitsch gave the Fighting Irish a verbal commitment to become the four-year starter there from 2021-24, just like current junior long-snapper John Shannon from 2017-2020 after Scott Daly (2013-16) and Jordan Cowart (2009-12).
Shannon and fifth-year senior punt return man/receiver Chris Finke are the two certainties on special teams this year, although Doerer’s progress the final two weeks of spring were also encouraging.
Freshman Jay Bramblett enrolled early this January to be the replacement for Newsome at punter, and his debut in front of an audience in the April 13 Blue-Gold Game had several mishits, many into a decent gust of wind, with a modest 34.9 average on eight punts.
As for Doerer, signed late in 2017 to handle kickoffs so Yoon could concentrate exclusively on field goals and extra points, he had temporarily lost that role to Yoon with three kickoffs that hooked out of bounds and two others in 2018 (versus Michigan and Pitt) that were returned for touchdowns, with some of the blame placed on Doerer for not placing directional kicks to the intended area.
Leg fatigue experienced by Yoon enabled Doerer to start against Navy — but his first extra point attempt missed. The second almost did as well before he settled into the contest that included converting his lone field goal attempt, from 30 yards, in the 44-22 victory.
“I was a little jittery to start,” Doerer admitted. “… It felt good for me to be able to kind of settle down and get back to it.”
It appeared many of those jitters returned early this spring when hooks and some shanks inside the Guglielmino Athletics Complex were common sights on his field-goal attempts. Leg strength has never been an issue for Doerer, but mechanics and accuracy had to be improved. From all initial appearances, incoming freshman preferred walk-on Harrison Leonard needed to be ready to seize the spot when he enrolled in summer school this June.
However, in the final two weeks of practice, Doerer began to find a rhythm and consistency that heretofore had been absent, including converting easily from approximately 50 yards in the April 4 open session on his final kick.
Two days later in a Saturday morning practice inside Notre Dame Stadium, the team opened with field-goal operation against a defense, and Doerer was 7 of 8, concluding with a 47-yard make.
Later during the scrimmage situation, his lone attempt, from 30 yards, was good. Corrective measures were taken to balance his rangy 6-3, 200-pound frame — “long levers” as the staff refers to it — with how he approached the football.
“He’s coming on, he’s definitely finding a better rhythm,” said head coach Brian Kelly afterwards. “We were able to adjust his steps to the point where we feel like we’ve got something now of consistency in his approach to the football. It seems to be something that he can repeat. This is the nature of kicking — the ability to repeat that over and over again. We’re seeing some light there at the end of the tunnel for him.”
“Not a lot of kickers are my size, so it’s a little more difficult to be consistent with your steps and movement,” Doerer said. “By shortening [the steps] up, we’ve been able to find some more consistency, and that’s something I’m really excited about. It keeps me from getting in my own way.
"I know when I hit the ball well, I’m going to have enough leg. As long as I stay within those steps and I stay under control, I’m going to have enough leg to make the kick. I don’t need to swing too hard.
“I spent a lot of time just working on my steps trying to be more consistent all the way around so I could just focus on hitting the ball well every single time. That definitely made an impact. I was able to feel more and more consistent as time went on.”
The April 13 Blue-Gold Game saw him convert all five extra points, drill a 35-yard field goal, but saw his final attempt, from 39 yards, hit the left upright.
“I felt that was the best ball I hit all day,” said Doerer of his lone miss. “I felt like I did everything I could to make that kick. Sometimes it’s a windy day out there and it doesn’t go your way.”
Holding off the challenge of Leonard while continuing to be consistent with his abbreviated stride will be Doerer’s next challenge, and the experience of learning from Yoon, especially his remarkable concentration, the past two years should be an advantage.
“It’s an honor, I got to play with him for two years,” said Doerer of Yoon. “I learned so much from him, so to be the next guy after him and just try to continue that on, I wouldn’t say it’s pressure. At Notre Dame, odds are you’re going to be taking after a player that played really well in front of you, so it’s no different for me. I’m just excited for the challenge and the opportunity.”