ND A-to-Z: Justin Yoon

Notre Dame has its next great kicker in Justin Yoon. After a banner freshman season, what can he do for an encore?

Justin Yoon scored more points than any freshman in Notre Dame football history.

That’s a good place to start when breaking down what the sophomore kicker can do better in his second season in South Bend with a new holder (Montgomery VanGorder) and the same snapper (Scott Daly). Because when it comes to Yoon’s follow-up to that freshman All-American campaign, the only way to get better might be circumstance.

Consider Yoon finished the season connecting on 12 straight field goals and 34 straight extra points. He’s two-thirds of the way to tying Notre Dame’s consecutive field goals mark (the extra point record, not so much as Craig Hentrich hit 136 straight). It all means that adding some drama to Yoon’s sophomore season might be the best way to do better.

It’s odd that Yoon attempted just three field goals in the fourth quarter last season, none of which came in a game where Notre Dame led by less than a touchdown. He went 3-for-3 on those tries, none coming from more than 36 yards out. In other words, Yoon’s skill set has yet to meet high drama on a Saturday (or Sunday) night.

Maybe that changes this season.

Best-Case Scenario

Yoon has the leg considering his 52-yard make against Navy. Now let’s see that used in a tight situation. There’s very little Yoon can do to create that kind of circumstance beyond knocking it out in practice, which the sophomore did during spring ball. The Irish could get better on kickoff coverage too, which isn’t all on Yoon. Notre Dame ranked No. 80 nationally in kickoff coverage last season. Iowa and Clemson were actually worse than Notre Dame in that department, meaning kickoff coverage isn’t essential to winning games. Yet it’s hard not to look back at Ohio State’s dismantling of Notre Dame’s kickoff return game in the Fiesta Bowl and not see major utility in improving this department.

Worst-Case Scenario

Aside from a sophomore slump no one sees coming, overuse might qualify. Of those 12-straight field goals Yoon hit to close last season, 10 came from inside the red zone. All three makes at Stanford were snapped from the 12-yard line and in. In other words, if Yoon’s make percentage remains the same because he continues to hit chip shots, that’s actually a bad thing for Notre Dame even if it gets its kicker All-American notice. But how DeShone Kizer or Malik Zaire function in the red zone has very little to do with Yoon.

Career Comparison

Well, considering no freshman has scored more points in Notre Dame football history, there really isn’t one. Kyle Brindza kicked off as a freshman, but that was about it. Nick Setta took a red-shirt. Reggie Ho was a walk-on. It’s hard to even find a four-year kicker. Hentrich qualifies, but the former pro made just 8-of-15 field goals as a freshman and was as much a punter as a kicker that season. Yoon’s freshman field goal percentage (88.2) is already better than any single season Hentrich put up.

Development Vs. Recruiting Ranking

Scout doesn’t rank kickers within their position, but Yoon picked up a four-star tag. That’s one star more than Oklahoma kicker Austin Seibert, who was often mentioned as Yoon’s biggest competition for No. 1. Rivals and 247 both ranked Yoon as the nation’s best at his position. ESPN put Yoon at No. 2 behind Seibert, although both got a 78 grade, which was tops among kickers. Seibert actually kicked and punted for the Sooners last year and was a semifinalist for the Ray Guy Award. Easy to make the case that these two were the nation’s best in their class, maybe by a wide margin.

Yoon At His Best

In Notre Dame’s three headline games – Clemson, USC and Stanford – Yoon went 6-for-6 on field goals and 9-for-9 on extra points. Even though he kicked just one field goal in the Clemson loss, it was from 46 yards in a monsoon. That’s probably more impressive than the 52-yarder Yoon hit a week later at home against Navy.

Quote To Note

“He’s not somebody that has ups and downs He’s not affected by elements. I like that approach to the way he goes to work every single day. He picks his line. He sticks to it. He’s committed to it. And I think that’s the mark of a really good specialist, and that’s what a lot of the kids respect about him.” – Brian Kelly last season

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