Competition On for Gioia

It's the second week of August and the heat is pounding on the Notre Dame football players. It's the end of an exhausting practice. The only thing standing between them running wind sprints or hitting the showers is the right leg of Carl Gioia.

Head coach Charlie Weis placed the ball on the 24-yard line at the conclusion of Tuesday's session and put all the pressure in the world on the senior. Gioia, after being frozen with a timeout, promptly stepped up to the kick and nailed it dead center through the uprights. The made boot got the Irish players out of running and helped Gioia show the coaching staff he can handle situations such as these.

"Coach (Weis) has made it a point to make sure that everyone here has the right mentality," Gioia said. "Not just on special teams but throughout the team. I think he knows what he's looking for. He likes to create those game-type situations. I just try to help out the team. When it's hot and the players are dog tired, the best way is to help them get out of sprints.

"They're out there busting their hump everyday. We don't have the most vigorous practices. To be able to give them a break and help them out as a kicker is real nice."

Gioia is currently in a battle to see who will handle the place kicking duties. The graduation of D.J. Fitzpatrick opened up the competition. Many thought that freshman Ryan Burkhart would assume the duties the minute he stepped onto campus. The Wakarusa, IN native wows people with his powerful leg. Gioia is trying to put forth the best effort he can in fall camp to impress the coaching staff.

"I'm just going to focus on my fundamentals and help the team in the best way possible," Gioia said. "I know that if Ryan comes in (to kick), he'll have the goods in one area I don't and he'll be out there. Coach Weis isn't going to put us in a position if we can't perform well."

The door is still open partly because of what happened in the Blue-Gold game last spring. Gioia handled the kicking duties that day and did nail the game-winner from 20 yards out as time expired. Despite this, more people were talking about his two misses. The first one came on the opening drive, where Gioia missed wide left from 34 yards out. The second miss came in the fourth quarter with the game tied, also wide left from 33 yards.

"I did not feel like I had a good day at all," Gioia said about the Blue-Gold game. "Those are automatic kicks. But you can't get too hung up on those. You have to worry about the next kick. That was one thing I tried to do in the off-season."

There are some who think that there could be a three-headed monster on special teams. Geoff Price looks like he'll be the punter and Gioia could handle the place kicking. Burkhart might be asked to kickoff because of his strong leg, hopefully tallying up touchback after touchback. Last season, Fitzpatrick handled both the punting and place kicking, a situation that special teams coach Brian Polian called not ideal. Gioia said whoever performs at a high level in each of the three facets will be the one seeing the field.

"I think we're trying to be the best we can in every phase," Gioia said. "We're going to have the best person out there in every phase. There are a lot of pro teams that have three different guys doing three different jobs. One for the kickoffs, one for the punting and one for the place kicking."

Gioia was mentally prepared enough to hit that pressure kick on Tuesday. Despite the make and having Weis single him out after practice, he knows he'll have to keep stringing together these types of performances.

"I think I've put together a few solid days," Gioia said. "But it's only two. We got a long way to go before Georgia Tech." Top Stories