Considering what Kyle Brindza went through as a youngster, bouncing back from a missed field goal is child’s play. After overcoming clubfoot, multiple surgeries and years of rehabilitation, the sophomore from Canton, Mich., is a big reason why Notre Dame is ranked No. 1 in the country and preparing for a BCS National Championship battle with No. 2 Alabama a week from now.
Kyle Brindza never let a miss get him down in 2012
As a freshman in 2011, Brindza worked as the team’s kickoff specialist, landing 12 touchbacks on 71 kickoffs while fifth-year senior David Ruffer handled field goals. Brindza was promoted to full-time placekicker this season and registered 25 touchbacks on 69 kickoffs (62.5-yard average) and converted on 23 of 31 field goal attempts (74.2 percent). With a 26-for-27 mark on points after touchdowns, Brindza paced the Fighting Irish in scoring with 95 points.
Head coach Brian Kelly knew Brindza had a powerful leg, but there were times midway through the season when misses were becoming a problem. However, Kelly remained confident in his kicker.
“He just said don’t miss,” Brindza recalled after going 1-for-3 against Brigham Young on Oct. 20.
That Brindza has a knack for erasing miscues from his mind gave everyone a sense of security moving forward. He sent a 40-yarder wide in the first quarter against Purdue in the second week of the season, but launched a 30-yarder pure in the third frame to extend Notre Dame’s lead to 17-7. After the Boilermakers fought back, he connected on a game-winning 27-yard field goal with seven seconds remaining.
His 39-yard triple with 6:46 to go against Michigan put the game out of reach. He was 2-for-2 versus Stanford, including a 22-yarder with 20 seconds to play to push the game to overtime.
Brindza’s performance against BYU was his only major hiccup.
“After you miss a kick you’re able to still have confidence in yourself to go out there and make the next one because you’ve done it so many times in practice,” he said. “Coach Kelly has also been able to instill that in me. After a missed kick he’ll come up to me and ask me what’s going on in my head and build the confidence back into me.
“You worry about your job all the time. It’s like the quarterback, you’ve got to go out there, and if you can’t do what they want, you’re going to get the boot. I’ve always had confidence in myself. … He had confidence in me to bring me back out after a miss. You’ve just got to go out there every day just like a linebacker or defensive end or a quarterback; you’ve got to be able to fight the competition and be able to win your spot.
Irish head coach Brian Kelly remained confident in Brindza even during a shaky stretch midway through the season
Though his one miss out of four attempts on the road at Oklahoma turned out to be inconsequential, it sticks out in his mind as the toughest to swallow of 2012.
“You can’t get rid of a miss right away,” he explained. “You have to understand what you did wrong and then get rid of it. It’s just like in golf — if you miss a put, what did you do wrong? Don’t do that next time.
“It’s pretty much understanding the fundamentals of what you did wrong and being able to go out there the next time and do the correct fundamentals. You’ve just got to have a clean slate and have confidence in yourself.”
Against Pittsburgh on Nov. 3 at Notre Dame Stadium, the Irish were on the brink of seeing their perfect season circle the drain. Brindza made 3 of 4 attempts that day, including a 37-yarder that extended the contest to a second overtime. The Panthers’ Kevin Harper made 4 of 5 field goals that day, but missed a 33-yarder in the second extra frame that would have won the game.
“He’s been clutch for us,” Kelly said. “When we’ve needed that big kick and the game is on the line, he has delivered every time. What I like about him is he doesn’t get rattled. He may miss one here or there, but there’s generally not a pattern for him. He breaks that pattern of missing one and he’ll come back and win one. That’s good to have somebody that doesn’t get down on himself and can fight through a miss here and there, and he’s only going to get better.”
With a trip to the title game on the line in the season finale at Southern California, Brindza propped up a struggling offense with a 5-for-6 effort — a career-long 52-yarder to end the first half and boost the Irish to a 16-10 advantage highlighting a historic day. He connected on a 19-yarder with 5:58 to play to make it a nine-point Notre Dame lead.
“I love pressure; I love pressure; I love pressure,” Brindza said. “That’s one of the weirdest things for a kicker. My kicking coach always asked me, ‘Why do you love pressure?’ Everything is on you. What are you going to do? Are you going to make it or miss it? People are going to put odds against you. I love it when people put odds against me. I’ve faced it all my life.”