Poise Under Pressure

Kyle Brindza, Notre Dame's first full-time triple-threat specialist since the early 1990s, welcomes pressure as a place-kicker, punter, and kick-off specialist.

"As you can see, I love pressure."

Final round putts. Late free throws in a close game. Corner-painting pitches on 3-2 counts in the late innings. Fourth quarter field goals.

Pressure situations all, the outcome of each decided ultimately by two factors: mechanics and concentration.

Irish junior Kyle Brindza thrives on pressure, but he's well-aware ice in his veins isn''t enough to consistently perform at the highest level as a triple-threat specialist in South Bend.

"It's hard, but I'm kind of a mental guy," he said of his dual field goal and punting role. "As you can see, I love pressure. My mentality is, 'You've done this a thousand times, why can't you do it again?' If you do your mechanics right, it's going to be a great ball. I don't' have a mental problem. Just being able to tell myself, 'You've already done it; do it again.' That's always helped me."

Brindza is unique as a kicker willing to talk about pressure situations. He's likewise one of a kind, at least since the early 90s in South Bend when future NFL'er Craig Hentrich was a specialist handling the three main roles of the kicking game: field goals, punts, and Brindza's speciality since arriving on campus in 2011 -- kickoffs.

"I came in here as a combo guy and it's finally come to my attention and the coaches' as well that I'm able to step up and perform on both levels," he said. "Being able to go out in the summer and getting help from coach (Brandon) Kornblue, he's been able to do a tremendous job with me as well as with (Bob) Diaco and coach (Scott) Booker, helping me get better."

Kornblue is Brindza's off-season kicking guru and spiritual advisor while Diaco is tasked with coaching punters on proper mechanics in addition to his defensive coordinator role. Booker is the squad's special teams coordinator. The latter pair aide Brindza daily -- Kornblue is however the instructor that made punting success possible after a trying spring.

"Coach Kornblue, There's a lot to say about him. I could ramble on for hours, but the biggest thing for me is he's like a brother to me, but he's also like a father to me," said Brindza of the kicking coach he toured the nation with this summer.

"Spiritually, he's brought me closer to God. He not only helps you understand the fundamentals of kicking, but he also encourages you to be a better man. That's the biggest thing for a kicker and a punter I would say is to be a better man because kicking and punting is more mental than it is physical. You're the only one going out there. Pretty much, you're the' lonesome kicker.' If you don't have that mentality and confidence in yourself, you've already shanked the punt or missed the field goal."

Brindza traveled nearly every other week during the summer to kicking camps in North Carolina, Florida, Texas, and Arizona as well as midwest locations Chicago, Indianapolis and Brindza's hometown of Canton, Michigan.

NCAA regulations precluded Brindza from working with Diaco or speaking with him often during the off-season. The camps he and Kornblue hit -- directed toward high school prospects -- provided a creative method to receive instruction on his secondary craft, punting.

"It's just repetition, muscle memory," Brindza said of becoming a collegiate punter. "I already have the muscle memory for kicking, I understand kicking, now it's understanding punting. And that's going day-in and day-out, 'Alright, focus on one thing and being able to instill that in your brain.

"I've gotten a lot more confident. The spring was my first time with the ones. Now that I've been in all of these different stadiums and environments, i'm kind of calm and cool (punting) now, just like I was last year with field goals."

Perfect Under Pressure

Brindza missed eight field goals last season, the number a touch high for a top-tier modern place-kicker. But he also nailed a program-record 23 straight and true, and though "clutch" situations can be subjective, Brindza finished a perfect 8-for-8 in game-winning, game-tying, overtime, or fourth-quarter lead extending field goals last fall and added a ninth last Saturday in Ann Arbor.

Purdue: Connected on the game-winning 27-yard field goal with 0:11 seconds remaining in a 20-17 Irish win

Michigan State: Hit a pair of fourth quarter field goals (29 and 47 yards) to extend a precarious 14-3 lead to a 20-3 final.

Michigan: Connected on a 39-yarder to extend Notre Dame's lead from one score, 10-3, to 10 points, 13-3, with just over six minutes remaining.

Stanford: Hit the game-tying 22-yard field goal in a driving rain to force overtime, a game the Irish won 20-13.

Oklahoma: Connected on 3 of 4 overall including a 46-yarder to extend Notre Dame's lead from one score, 20-13, to 23-13 with just over three minutes remaining.

Pittsburgh: Hit 3 of 4 vs. the Panthers including a 37-yarder in overtime to tie the score and force a second extra session

USC: Hit a 19-yard offering to extend Notre Dame's lead from 19-13 to 22-13 late in the fourth quarter. Brindza hit 5 of 6 vs. the Trojans including a 52-yarder at the halftime gun.

Michigan 2013: Connected on a 40-yarder to draw the Irish within four, 34-30, with just over nine minutes remaining.

Body Control

Performance under pressure isn't a problem for the former state champion. Overwork could be.

"(Leg fatigue) is one of the biggest things, even coach says to watch it," says Brindza of his practice regimen. "That's on me to get in the training room day-in and day-out. We can sit here and talk about my (punt) drop and walking my line, but the biggest thing for me is that I can get into that training room and understand my body is what I need to be able to punt and kick, not just have the skills. My body has to be taken care of.

"You can ask all the guys, I'm one of the biggest stretchers. I'm probably 10 times more flexible since I got here. I understand my body more than I used to. Yeah I have power, yeah I'm flexible, but it's being able to understand my body (in practice), when I need to stop or if I can get another rep, get another rep. Just being able to know when to stop."

Brindza noted that like a pitcher's pitch count, he has a finite number of leg swings in a season.

"You have to have a set amount. When I have a certain amount of field goals on the day, I'm not going to go over it. If I go under it, that's fine. I was able to do it well enough to go under. I need to pull myself back from going over it. 'Here's your threshold. If you go over that threshold, that's when you're (at risk) for getting hurt," he said.

"Even though my body might feel good, Im still going to have a (definitive) number count, otherwise I could wake up the next day and feel horrible. If I feel horrible, it's lowering the ability to focus on my form."

Field goals are second nature. Like most, Brindza will encounter his share of misses, but he can take pride in missing two field goals in the same game just once (BYU last season, hitting the third attempt in the second half).

Punting remains a work in progress, especially the art of the directional kick in close (Brindza has two touchbacks -- a cardinal sin when punting on the offensive side of midfield), but he's averaged 40.9 yards on seven boots through two games this fall.

Then there's duty No. 3: kick-offs. Or better said, kicking the ball out of the back of the end zone.

"I would say it's a miss-hit," said Brindza of the times when he hangs the ball short of the goal line. "Sometimes I get a little bit too much under the ball. I understand next time I have to get a little bit higher and get that line drive. For me, I've always had a strong leg to just hit the ball. Now I'm able to understand that If I drive this ball, it might not have this hang time, but I can still put it out of the back of the end zone."

Notre Dame's staff struggled early last season with choosing to try for touchbacks -- and an automatic spot at the 25-yard line -- or hang the ball high near the goal and attempt to make a tackle short of that starting spot. Brindza noted they've settled on the former.

"They've put it on my plate now (to hit the end zone on kick-offs)," Brindza said. "If we hang it up to the 1-yard line, they still have a possibility to score. Just put it out of the back of the end zone so that's what I try to do every time."

Every time he's not punting or kicking crucial field goals, that is.

"I just focus on one thing at one time. It's like (balancing) studies. When it's football time, you focus on football. When it's study time, you focus on studying.

"It's like (golfing): when your driver is on, you driver is on. Or your putter is on, your putter is on. But then you have that day when your driver is on but your putter (isn't').

"(In practice, I've learned to go out there and focus on punting, but not kicking (and vice-versa). Then Thursday it comes together and I'm ready to go on Saturday."

Early, often, and to date, at his best under pressure late.

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