Mental Steps

Triple-threat Irish kicking specialist Kyle Brindza eschews footballs for adherence to his routine and mastery of mechanics during in-season practices.

Due in part to its simplicity, the sport of basketball serves as the first love for many kids. The necessities for play and self-improvement in basketball include the following: a ball, and a basket at which to shoot.

Not so for the equipment or participant-heavy sports hockey, baseball, and football.

For Notre Dame place-kicker, punter, and kickoff specialist Kyle Brindza, the arc of his football career offers even more simplicity. Equipment has been rendered unnecessary. So too is an opponent. He can practice anywhere, at any time.

He doesn't even need a football.

"I don't even kick off during the week," said Brindza of his in-season practice regiment. "I just do form. Understanding what I can do with the ball, I don't need it anymore. I only (use a ball) with the team."

The same applies to the third leg of his responsibilities, punting.

"No. I can just do drops. Or (practice) form without a ball. Come Saturday, I'm set."

Brindza has kicked off 22 times this fall for the 3-0 Irish. 17 went through or deep into the end zone for touchbacks. The 78 total return yards yielded ranks as fifth-lowest nationally.

Joked head coach Brian Kelly of his kick coverage unit, "All all those guys do is run down and avoid people. So that's been a huge thing. I don't want to take anything away from them, but that's been a huge piece to our kickoff coverage team is that they have not had to defend but I think two plays this year."

(Brindza will have to keep it up -- his 10 coverage men have surrendered a whopping 26 yards per return, or 115th nationally, despite each of the three returned kickoffs landing inside the end zone or at the goal line.)

A lifelong fan of former New York Yankees closing pitcher Mariano Rivera, an athlete lauded for his tireless preparation and adherence to routine, Brindza refers to his total kicks (kickoff, field goals, punts) in a given season, as his "pitch count." As in, he knows how many he has in him before becoming leg weary, something that plagued him during his freshman season of 2011.

"My pitch count keeps going down," he said of his ensuing seasons in South Bend. "I know if I have the form, the ball is going through the uprights. If you have a routine, you're set, your'e golden. If you don't, you can kick as many balls as you want. You won't be successful."

Brindza's fourth-quarter and overtime success is well-documented: 17 for 18, the lone miss occurring with a win over Temple no longer in doubt. In short, he's never missed when it's mattered -- 17 for 17. Ironic, in that he's missed often when the distance has been short.

"When people bring that up I look at it as I've grown," Brindza bristled of the statistic that shows eight of his 16 career missed field goals have occurred inside the 40-yard line. "Freshman year I missed eight or nine (total kicks). Last year five or six. This year I'll be better. Those shorter kicks that I thought I would hit, but I went out of my form and missed, I'm not going to do that. Keep your form, it goes in. Lose your form, it doesn't."

No Solo Mission

The lonely existence of a college football specialist is unique to the position. In a sport rooted deeply in camaraderie, fraternity, and brotherhood, kickers and punters are often on the outside looking in.

Perhaps that's why Brindza enjoys a big play in the punting game more than drilling a field goal between the pipes. His 40-yard punt against Michigan landed inside the two-yard line and was downed by a trio of diving Irish teammates.

"For field goal, (the machinations) are pretty much given (snap, block, hold, kick) so it relies on you to put it threw the uprights," he said. "For punt its more of a team thing. If I don't have those guys down there, it's going into the end zone. I could cheer for myself, but be in a team situation.

"We call em 'Aussies,' he added of the punting art form. "Falling at the one or two-yard line. Get 'em to bounce backwards."

On his 13 punts this season, Brindza has forced seven fair catches, booted four in excess of 50 yards, placed four inside the 20-yard line, and suffered just two touchbacks -- both of which traveled more than 50 yards, with one bouncing inside the 5-yard line before rolling into the end zone.

"It's all mechanics," Brindza reiterated. "I hardly hit a ball during the week because I'm working on mechanics. If I have my mechanics set for Saturday, Saturday is golden."

Brindza's confidence in himself is impossible to miss. It's a confidence his teammates share now a month into Year Five of the Kelly era.

"There's more maturity in our atmosphere. We're all Coach Kelly kids, so we all understand what he wants. He recruited us for a reason," Brindza stated. "We understand what he wants out of us and what he has put us on the field for. Not only to win a national championship, but also to become a better man, an RKG.

"He always says, when you step on the field, you have to leave it all on the field or don't come back." Top Stories