Query Irish fans.
When punter Tyler Newsome offers, “Oh it’s awesome. I love that place,” is he referring to:
- His favorite off campus restaurant?
- Notre Dame Stadium?
- Atlanta or his nearby hometown of Carrollton, Ga.?
It’s actually, D, none of the above. The answer, defying most logic associated with punters is instead – the weight room.
“I would argue we have the hardest group of specialists in the country,” said Newsome of the sextet of Irish kickers, punters, and snappers that put in extra workout time together while the rest of the squad practices inside the specialist-unfriendly Loftus Center.
“We go to work everyday, all six of us, (kicker) Sam (Kohler), Justin (Yoon), (kicker/punter) Jeff (Riney), (kicker) John (Chereson), Scott (Daly), myself. I think it’s a mindset at this point. We don’t want to be outworked, we want to be the best in the country.
“When you have that every day, it rubs off on each other. It’s constant energy feeding off of these guys. I love it. It’s a challenge and it’s what I came here for. It’s been great.”
The other oft-referenced member of that specialist six-pack, kicker Justin Yoon, missed two of his first five field goal attempts last season but thereafter was nearly perfect, connecting on 12 straight to conclude the season including a 52-yarder to end the half against Navy – one yard shy of a program record.
As with Newsome, the weight room has provided a haven for Yoon. Convenient in that South Bend’s never ending winter has precluded much kicking and punting practice outdoors.
“Honestly spring practice has been quite the challenge,” Yoon said. “Weather is not helping us here, but I believe we’ve been pushing hard as a unit. We’re in the weight room; we work there. You can only do so much, but we’re glad we at least have the weight room. We can work on technique. It prevents us from kicking too much, prevents injury.”
“It’s unique, but working on fundamentals and technique to make myself better. And we’re able to bond as a unit together. Try to focus on what each of us can do to become better specialists.”
A NEW PARTNER
While Newsome and the Irish coverage unit are tasked with pushing his net average (a middling 38.1 last fall) closer to Newsome’s whopping gross number of 44.5 yards per punt, Yoon’s focus has been on an unexpected change – finding familiarity with a new battery mate.
Long snapper Scott Daly returns for his fifth season and second straight with Yoon, but last year’s holder DeShone Kizer has been replaced by another quarterback, junior Montgomery VanGorder.
“I could tell he wanted to be the holder,” said Yoon of the decision to switch after finding success with Kizer last fall. “It was shown not only through (VanGorder’s0 actions but coming to me, asking, ‘What can I do to become better? What time? When? How many times a week? He asked me for feedback and the only thing I could do was respond and think ‘Wow, this guy really wants this job.’”
Yoon offered the difference between Kizer and VanGorder from a technical aspect is miniscule.
“It was tough to decide to be honest with you because both are phenomenal holders and very responsible for what they do,” he said. “It was a close competition. Me being a kicker, I was picky, I guess. I need to be able to see the ball sometimes as fast as I can, and Gummy has that little, small advantage.
“(It’s) how he presents it. Literally, this much (thumb and forefinger barely apart) of a difference – .01, .02 seconds faster. Just that difference makes me more confident in my ball-to-contact (timing).”
Head coach Brian Kelly was onboard with the switch.
“It looks like he has a little more pop in his leg,” said Kelly of Yoon. “Last year, where there was a little bit of a cliff regarding his comfort level was about 43 yards. Now we’ve extended that in the spring to about 47 to 50 yards. A little more pop, more strength in the leg. That’s what we’re seeing more than anything else.”
Kelly’s program appears set at kicker and punter for the foreseeable future as both Yoon and Newsome have three seasons of eligibility remaining.
“When you’re working out with the team, you’re not viewed as a specialist,” said Newsome of his favorite South Bend springtime destination, the Notre Dame weight room. “You’re viewed as part of the team, not a specialist that screws around. That’s not the mindset we have.
“We’re part of the team and we do everything that the team does. It’s not only getting physically stronger, but mentally stronger, so if you do mess up in a game, they have your back.”
Both expect to keep those mistakes to a minimum next fall.