The last time Notre Dame senior kicker Nick Tausch got injured, he discovered the meaning of getting “Wally Pipp-ed.”
Sophomore Kyle Brindza will start again this week at Michigan State.
As a freshman in 2009, Tausch converted a Notre Dame record 14 consecutive field goals. The streak ended during a 23-21 loss to Navy … and so did his season because of a foot injury.
Enter walk-on David Ruffer. He converted all five of his field-goal attempts the rest of that season, barely edged out Tausch for the starting role in 2010 — and then hit 18 more field goals in a row to begin the 2010 season and become one of three finalists for the Lou Groza Award. It wasn’t quite like Lou Gehrig replacing a still productive Wally Pipp, but it was Notre Dame’s version at kicker.
With Ruffer graduated, Tausch regained his starting role this spring and August over sophomore Kyle Brindza, but this time a groin injury last week while preparing for the Purdue Boilermakers shelved him.
Enter Brindza, who in his first career start converted from 27 yards with seven seconds left to lift the Irish to a 20-17 victory against Purdue.
“All I can say is it was a blessing to be even on the field and get an opportunity, just being able to play for my dream team growing up,” said Brindza, who will be making his second start at placekicker this weekend, at East Lansing, approximately 75 miles from his Canton, Mich., hometown.
Unlike Ruffer, Brindza is far from an unheralded-walk-on-makes-it-to-the-top story. Considered in some circles the nation’s top high school kicking prospect his senior year — when he made a state record 19 field goals, including 6-of-9 from 50 or more yards — Brindza was selected as a Parade All-American.
Despite that glittering dossier, something came over him when his first career college attempt, a 40-yard attempt versus the Boilermakers, hooked left.
“I haven’t had jitters like that since sophomore year in high school,” Brindza admitted. “When I walked out there, I had to take a breath. My mind was racing everywhere … I literally felt like time stopped. I was looking around and I don’t even know what was going on.
“But after that first one, my mind was perfectly all set. The jitters were all gone.”
Brindza had a 48-hour period to get his mind prepared for the Purdue game after the injury to Tausch. Following the initial snafu, Brindza made a 30-yard field goal on his next attempt to stretch Notre Dame’s lead to 17-7 in the third quarter.
“I was able to now adapt to what the stadium is like going out there for the second one,” he said.
On the gam-winning kick, Brindza was much more locked in and appreciated that teammates didn’t overwhelm him about the significance of the kick.
“It was kind of nice that I got to do my own thing and get my mind right, whereas back in the day in high school, people used to always come up to me and say stuff,” Brindza said. “There might have been people talking. I was so focused.”
The situation was hardly foreign to the 6-1, 225-pound Brindza, who as the top kickoff man has booted five touchbacks this year. During his senior year at Plymouth High, he drilled a 47-yard field goal into the wind to secure a victory over Canton in one playoff game, and then made another with 38 seconds to win the regional title over Detroit Central Catholic.
Brindza, who was born with a clubfoot and went though numerous surgeries to correct it, expects about 20 family members to be in attendance in Spartan Stadium. It is another contest that is expected to be a nip-and-tuck affair, similar to the Purdue game.
Just like with his initial career field goal attempt, Brindza now has the advantage of having his first game-winning kick at Notre Dame out of the way.