CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- North Carolina placekicker Nick Weiler will do anything to help improve his kicking game, even if it includes picking up a bow and arrow. After one of the most prolific kicking seasons in UNC football history in 2015, Weiler spent the offseason giving archery a shot as his new hobby.
“I read an article last year about [NFL kicker] Adam Vinatieri and apparently that narrow focus he gets when he’s shooting during archery really helps him since it’s similar to kicking,” Weiler said. “So I picked up a bow and just started doing target practice in the backyard.”
While offseason workouts helped Weiler with his physical game, he used archery to help fine tune his mental approach to kicking. The senior didn’t cut corners, though, and used every opportunity for his archery skills to translate to the football field. If you can't use a scope while kicking a field goal, then you shouldn't use one when shooting a bow, says Weiler.
“I got an old-school recurve bow, which is kind of more instinctual shooting,” he said. “You don’t have a scope to aim with. It was tough at first to figure it out and learn the proper form, but it’s fun now.”
When he wasn’t practicing field goals or loading up his quiver for target practice, Weiler spent the rest of his time during the offseason on the golf course playing another game with parallels to kicking.
“It’s kind of just calm,” Weiler said. “It makes you focus on getting in the zone and clearing your head. Kicking is similar to a golf swing, you just want to let your body do it. You use muscle memory from good practice and proper form. When you get in the moment you can’t overthink anything.”
Just like a golfer who misses a big putt on the 18th hole, Weiler sees his past missteps only as motivation to get better.
“Any time you miss a kick in a year, you have something to improve on,” he said. “You’re only as good as your next kick.”
Fortunately for Weiler, those misses didn’t come often in 2015, as he made 19 field goals in 22 attempts and converted 62 PAT’s.
However, he still sees room for improvement for not only himself, but also for the players around him, and knows that he's now a leader in the special teams unit and for the Tar Heels as a whole.
“As a fifth-year senior you’ve seen a lot, you’ve experienced a lot, and people understand that you’ve had all these experiences and they can learn from you,” Weiler said. “Now it’s kind of just making sure that everyone jumps on the bandwagon that we’re going to outwork every single team out there. We’re going to win the big games. We’re going to perform when we need to, unlike last year.”
Weiler’s hard work on and off the field during the summer has paid off, as the kicker now says he’s been converting field goals between 50 and 60 yards. While his range has increased, it may be the Tar Heel’s memory of his time at Kenan Stadium that will prove to be his greatest asset.
“My overall experience as a football player, knowing this is my last year, I’ve prepared just as hard as I have in the past, but I definitely have a narrow focus on what works and what doesn’t work from past experiences,” he said. “This has been my most efficient and productive offseason. As the old guy you learn what works and how to prepare. My mental game is better than ever.”
That mental game will be put to the test on Sept. 3rd when the Tar Heels face off against Georgia in the Georgia Dome. Weiler’s one goal on that day will be simple: just like in archery, hit the target.