It’s not like Justin Yoon’s move from the prep ranks in Milton, Mass., to the massive stage that is major college/Notre Dame football was a fall off the cliff.
He missed 45 and 34-yard field goals in the first two games against Texas and Virginia games, missed an extra point against Georgia Tech in Week Three, and another in the fourth game after he may have gotten leg weary as the Irish hung 62 points on UMass.
Since then, it’s been perfection.
“Obviously coming in, it was a little difficult,” said Yoon, the 5-foot-10, 185-pounder who attempted just 17 field goals (making 13) in his final two seasons at Milton Academy.
“My confidence level changed throughout the season with everyone supporting me and believing in me. Just that factor helped me believe in them and helped me get through the season.”
Yoon did more than just “get through” the season. He made 15-of-17 field-goal attempts, including each of his last nine as well as every one of his last 31 extra-point attempts en route to garnering freshman All-American honors.
“You would think after missing a couple, you would think, ‘Oh, wow, I’m missing a lot,’” Yoon said. “But Coach (Scott) Booker and Coach (Brian) Kelly did a really good job of making sure I got through those troubling times.”
Kelly consistently praised Yoon throughout his freshman campaign, remaining confident in his rookie kicker even amidst the early-season struggles.
Kelly knew that whatever issues Yoon was having, he would find the solution and become the consistent kicker he knew he signed in February and handed the job upon the conclusion of spring drills – before Yoon had arrived on campus.
“With kickers, it’s settling into the game atmosphere and feeling comfortable with the routine,” Kelly said. “Once he was able to get into what the routine is in college and what we do on a week-to-week basis, he was off and running.
“The other thing he does quite well is he self-corrects. If there’s an issue with him pushing a ball or hooking something, he’s a guy that can self-correct on his own. He can immediately assess and not let it affect him. He’s really easy to work with.”
When Yoon struggled early, Notre Dame turned to video for answers. Using the tool in practice as well as games, Yoon was able to observe his technique, tweak it to correct some issues, and then locked in, always going back to video to check and double-check.
“Film is everything,” Yoon said. “I think, ‘Wow, I’m doing fine,’ and then once I miss, I think, ‘Wow, what happened there?’
“It’s step by step by step. I’m using film every practice because without that, I wouldn’t be able to fix my form. I can feel it. In order for me to know why I got it wrong, I need that to correct it.”
The last field goal Yoon missed was on Sept. 12 at Virginia. He attempted only nine field goals over the last 10 games, nailing every one of them, including a 46-yarder in torrential rains at Clemson and a 52-yarder at the end of the first half against Navy in Notre Dame Stadium.
All six of his field-goal attempts since the 52-yarder against the Midshipmen have been 36 yards or less. After making his first seven extra points, missing, making his next eight and then missing again, Yoon has made 31 in a row.
“Everything about me is form,” Yoon said.
And confidence. From kicking in front of “a hundred in high school to 80,000 at Notre Dame,” Yoon credits his father, Jiseop, a former Olympic figure skater, the Irish coaching staff, his teammates – including holder DeShone Kizer and snapper Scott Daly – kicking guru Jamie Kohl, and even former Irish kicker Kyle Brindza, who stopped by the Notre Dame campus recently and talked kicking with Yoon.
The end result has been nothing short of spectacular over the final eight games of the regular season.
“It’s not a matter of me missing, it’s a matter of what I do the next time and what I think about next time,” Yoon said. “Every kick is a different ball. Not every one is the same. If every one were the same, I would make all of them.
“Coming out of high school, you can be the hotshot. The first three or four games, I had some trouble. But after going through this experience, I’ve built my confidence with multiple trials and errors.
“It’s an interesting nervous. It’s exciting. I had to get over that aspect. Once I did, I’ve felt pretty confident about what I’m capable of doing.”