Mentally Gifted

Mentally Gifted

Notre Dame kicker Kyle Brindza possesses one of the strongest right legs in college football. It pales in comparison to his greatest weapon.

Senior kicker Kyle Brindza has missed kicks before -- just not when they mattered, at least not in a Notre Dame uniform.

If he does miss a crucial kick in his final Irish season, he'll get over it before you do. He has to.

"I’ve always been a guy who doesn’t ponder," said Brindza recalling his only minor career slump. "I remember I pondered for a week or two…and I missed two more the next week.

"After that...I just threw it out the window. New chapter. As coach (Brian) Kelly says, we have a 24-hour period whether we lose or win. Throw it out. Next day."

Throw out his first attempt of both 2012 and 2013 and Kyle Brindza's career mark for the Irish is 43 of 55, (78%). In games not played in Notre Dame Stadium, he's 27 of 34 -- mostly, of course, kicking from a foreign FieldTurf surface.

One he now enjoys at home.

"So much better," he said of Notre Dame Stadium's soon-to-be hallowed ground. "Better than painted dirt green. There's a time and place to change. It's not changing tradition, it's helping us get better. There aren't as many injuries, and besides, it looks better."

Brindza doesn't mind grass, convenient in that four of Notre Dame's six games away from home will be played on a natural surface this fall. In fact, when Brindza is kicking, he doesn't mind much.

"Fans try to get in your head. The funniest ones are Boston College and USC. That's what I love. I love pressure when people talk trash to me. Six-foot-six, 300-pound linemen jawing at me. That makes you that much better. It's how a lot of athletes are. I laugh it off, do what I do. It's (great) proving the whole crowd wrong."

A remarkable 15 for 15 during the fourth quarter and overtime of tight contests (Brindza missed to begin the fourth quarter against Temple in 2013 with the Irish staked to a 28-6 lead), Brindza relishes the chance to decide the outcome of a contest.

"It's just a mental game. It's a mental game," he said. "If you think you can drive the ball right through the pipes, you can do it. You just have to realize it's muscle memory. You've done it a thousand times, why not do it right now?

"Fourth quarter. Two seconds left. 50-yard field goal. You've already done it in practice. Coach Kelly sets you up for those situations, so he sets you up for success."

Triple-Threat

For the second straight season, Brindza will handle kickoffs and punting duties in addition to his crucial placekicking chores.

“I think there were less than 10 (kickers) that did it in 2013 out of, what is it now? 129 teams in Division IA? I think that’s a thing that’s not common but Kyle is an uncommon kicker," said special teams coach Scott Booker. "He’s a guy that has a lot of great attributes. Strong leg, fearless and the guy we wanna put in those positions. Right now we’re rolling with him in those three facets.”

His tenth successful field goal this season will set a Notre Dame record for a career. He already shares the mark for the longest in program history, 53 yards vs. Arizona State in Cowboys Stadium last October. Kelly will likely give his Lou Groza Award candidate the chance to break it.

He might have to.

"He said to get ready to punt," recalled Brindza of an exchange he had with his head coach midway through the fourth quarter of last year's win over Brigham Young. "I was like, punt? Are you kidding?

51 yards later, Notre Dame extended its lead to 23-13 with just under seven minutes remaining. The Cougars never dented the more comfortable margin thereafter.

Kick the ball through the end zone when needed. Punting out of trouble. Game-clinching and winning field goals. Brindza is prepared for all of the above. Again.

"It gets easier for me because the guys rely on me more," he said of triple duty. "They understand that I'm the guy. They need to trust me. In order for me to produce on the field, I have to have guys that can back me up. Them backing me up makes me a better kicker or punter.

"I'd rather have myself to have (a big situation) on his shoulders if a punt or kick goes wrong. Put it all on me, it's fine. I can bounce back from it, it's easy."

Easy, but it hasn't come easily. Born with a clubbed right foot (kicking foot), Brindza was forced to overcome a major obstacle from the outset.

"I was told I would never walk, or run, or play a contact sport," he said. "The doubters, you have to shut them out. My foot was turned backwards. I went through several castings and surgeries, well over a handful, and they told me I would probably never play a contact sport or possibly walk or run the same. At a young age, I just had the mindset to push through it and to prove them wrong."

Doctors, the crowd, 300-pound linemen, and anyone that may doubt him along the way.

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