Burkhart Betters His Boot

Local boy Ryan Burkhart and his big leg was supposed to come in this past season and challenge Carl Gioia for all the Notre Dame kicking duties. But the Wakarusa, Ind., product struggled booting field goals the day he got on campus. While Gioia was having a tough time in games, Burkhart was having a tougher time in practice.

This past offseason, Burkhart and fellow kicker Nate Whitaker worked hard to nip the problem in the bud. Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis acknowledged at his press conference opening spring football that the 5-foot-11, 185-pound Burkhart did some things to really give him a chance to improve.

"Basically during the offseason, like my fundamentals kind of got a little messed up and stuff during the season, so I kind of went back to basics and started from scratch," Burkhart said. "Tried some new footwork and stuff and found out some new things that are working for me now. I'm just going to continue from there and keep improving.

"When we kicked in the offseason together, we‘d watch each other, like I would kick one and Nate would watch me and critique it. We basically took turns critiquing each other."

Sounds like it worked for the one day the Irish have worked on field goals so far.

"He had a decent first day," Weis said on Saturday. "Better than, kicking field goals, better than at anytime we'd seen him last year."

"Just mental stuff and things," Burkhart said of why he struggled. "It starts getting sloppy, my plant foot starts sliding closer to the ball. That's causing it to go right and left. I'm working on that to get that back out wide again.

"You just need to rely on your form and your steps. It's just a repeated nature. Once you get that down, you're not going to have any problems."

Burkhart didn't have many problems at NorthWood High, about a 40-minute drive from Notre Dame‘s campus. He hit 12-of-22 field goals his senior year, but a lot of those attempts came from beyond 40 yards. He nailed a school-record 53-yard field goal in the season opener. Burkhart said he nailed one from 60 yards in practice.

As a junior, Burkhart showed what he is capable of, hitting eight-of-11 attempts, including seven-of-eight coming from 40 yards or more.

For a good portion of last season, Burkhart handled the Irish's kickoff duties. Inconsistent, he lost the job at the end of the season, but showed what he is capable of, totaling a team-high eight touchbacks.

"It was a great experience, because I actually got some time in on kickoffs to get my confidence level up," Burkhart said. "It wasn't too tough on me at all (the field goal struggles). I enjoyed kicking off."

Now he's just hoping to enjoy kicking field goals as well. Incoming freshman Brandon Walker is expected to push Burkhart and win the job, just like Burkhart was expected to do this past season.

"I'm not focusing on distance right now," Burkhart said. "I'm trying to concentrate on 40 yards on in, and being accurate and not missing too many of those. If the situation comes in a game beyond 40, I'll just take it from there. You don't change it up too much."

Burkhart is only focusing on kicking right now. With All-American candidate Geoff Price back for a fifth season as a punter, the kickers can try and solve their consistency problems.

"Right now, I want to get the kickers to kick and see if I can't get that straightened out first, because he is capable of punting," Weis said. "But right now, the first things first straightened out, just trying to get them to do what their specialty, and do that the best."

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