CHICAGO -- Mitch Ewald is not your average placekicker.
He frequently sneaks into the pass-and-go drills early in practice when quarterbacks are tossing quick outs to the wide receivers. He always goes to the front of the line for wind sprints so he can race some of IU's faster players like Stephen Houston, Cody Latimer or Kofi Hughes. And he consistently beats his teammates in the change of direction drills.
He's also quite the grillmaster. Ewald lives in a house in downtown Bloomington that has a decent-sized patio and frequently invites his teammates over to grill outside. He said he picks up the tab for burgers for the special teams guys but if you're a lineman it's BYOM (Bring Your Own Meat).
It's just not the normal M.O. for kickers.
Kickers are generally a little bit of a different breed. They keep to themselves. Often times they're isolated with other kickers and specialists on the opposite end of the field or on a different practice field all together. They're known more for their mental aspects as in being overly concerned about where their plant foot is going to land or which way the wind is blowing. The physical stuff is left to the majority of the other Division I scholarship athletes on the team.
"The stereotypical kicker probably hangs out with the specialists and you never see him on the weekends,'' said IU senior wide receiver Kofi Hughes. "You also don't see him a lot in practice and in workouts he's not one of the top performers but with Mitch that's all not true.''
Ewald is just one of the guys. He may be a former high school soccer player turned kicker but the fifth-year senior from Naperville, Ill. is respected by coaches and teammates alike as being one of the leaders on this Indiana football team.
"A lot of people don't know it but Mitch is one of the best athletes on our team,'' Hughes said. "He works hard in the drills and in the weight room. And if you watch the film, you'll see that Mitch is getting a lot more tackles than a lot of guys on special teams. He's a heck of a guy. He's just a really good dude.''
Ewald was one of three Indiana players selected by IU coach Kevin Wilson to represent the Hoosiers the last two days at Big Ten Football Media Day in Chicago. Generally, the players chosen are the big name players from more prominent positions. Ewald said it was an honor to be selected.
"This means a lot because a lot of times kickers don't get this kind of recognition at an event like this one,'' Ewald said. "I've gotten a few funny looks from some of the players from the other schools but that's no big deal. I'm good with it.''
Ewald said players look at him as if they're trying to figure out what position he might play.
"I'm not sure a lot of them are even thinking kicker,'' Ewald said. "I'm guessing they're probably thinking quarterback … or ballboy.''
At 5-10, 174, Ewald isn't that far off from having a football look. He certainly looks bigger and stronger than the 145-pound kicker who arrived on campus in 2009.
And when he finds his way into the receiver drills it just reinforces his belief that he can hold his own with the big boys.
"There was one day I vividly remember where I flipped over and caught the ball and coach Wilson kind of looked at me and started laughing,'' Ewald said. "After that I just thought it was fun to do it and I think he enjoys it. My position coach always tries to get me out of there so I don't get hurt but I have fun with it.''
When asked if he thought there was any chance Wilson and his staff might slip him into the lineup at a receiver spot one day just to throw off the competition, Ewald cracked an ear-to-ear grin. "I'd say there's no chance,'' Ewald said. "I highly doubt it. If (holder) Erich Toth could prove he could throw we might put me out on a screen pass/fake field goal but I think that's about it.''
Ewald said he's never actually converted a fake field goal attempt in a game. He said he and punter/holder Toth practice a few variations on their own but it's stuff he doesn't think they could ever convince Wilson to try. He said he's had one fake field goal attempt at IU but it wasn't successful.
"Two years ago when Teddy Schell was my holder, we did attempt one,'' Ewald said. "I was kind of rolling out and I was ready, man. I was ready to grab that ball and run as hard as I could. But I think Teddy decided to throw it to somebody else and it was a failed attempt.''
When Ewald is asked to kick it, he hasn't had many failed attempts. He is the all-time leader in field goal percentage at Indiana, hitting 44-of-55 attempts, 80 percent. In 24 career Big Ten games, Ewald has made 29-of-25 field goals, 82.9 percent. He's tied for third on IU's career field goal list with 44, fourth with 105 extra points and sixth in total points with 237.
Hughes said when he comes off the field after a stalled drive he's upset, but only for a moment.
"As I'm running off the field I usually pass Mitch and I think to myself, ‘Well, at least we're going to get something out of this drive,'' Hughes said. "That's the best compliment I can pay him. We know he's going to kick it through.''
Follow Terry Hutchens at Twitter.com/foxsportshutch