Irish junior Kyle Brindza starts his routine before every kick with a few comically exaggerated deep breaths according to his teammates. There’s nothing funny, though, about his results especially when it matters most.
Junior Kyle Brindza tied a program record with his 53-yard field goal against Arizona State.
Brindza has now made 31 of his 42 career attempts midway through his second season kicking field goals for Notre Dame. He’s only missed once in 12 attempts when called upon in the fourth quarter, and that during the first minute of the quarter in a well-in-hand victory over Temple in September.
Last Saturday, in a 37-34 win over Arizona State, Brindza booted a 53-yarder in the third quarter to add a spark of energy to his team that had been missing in recent weeks. He added two more successful attempts in the final quarter, including one from 25 yards away to break a 27-27 tie with three minutes left in the game.
“He just has that feeling that he’s a clutch player for us, and he has been since he’s been here,” head coach Brian Kelly said following the game.
Brindza took over as the team’s placekicker in Notre Dame’s home opener a season ago against Purdue. He broke a 17-17 tie in that game with seven seconds left on the clock. He has yet to miss with the game on the line, converting crucial kicks in close wins against Michigan, Stanford, BYU and USC during an undefeated regular season.
Each of them starts with a mind-clearing, zen-seeking gulp of air. Brindza said a growing obsession in recent years with yoga has taught him how to control his body and quiet his nerves.
Minnesota Vikings kicker and former training partner Blair Walsh turned Brindza on to a routine of yoga and Pilates. He trusted Walsh enough to power through a few awkward sessions with other Notre Dame students at the school gym. Most of his yoga occurs in the privacy of his own home now, but he’s a big enough advocate to attempt to drag his teammates along with him.
“I’ve become a little bit of a freak about it,” he said. “It calms your whole body and trains your whole body.”
Yoga led to his deep breaths, which have added to a robotic routine that Brindza says helps him turn pressure-packed situations into any old kick.
“It’s about your comfort. If you don’t feel comfortable, you feel kind of out of place and when you feel a little out of place you feel less confident,” he said. “I tell myself all the time I’ve made this kick a thousand times in practice, why can’t you do it now? It’s just people watching. It’s just another kick and another chance to make a field goal.”
Brindza said yoga has helped him understand his body as much as his nerves, an important lesson for one of the busiest kickers in the country. Brindza’s role with the Irish is rare in that he takes care of all three kicking jobs — kickoffs, field goals and punts. He said one of his biggest challenges this season has been monitoring his reps in practice each day to keep from wearing out his leg.
Through six games, Brindza’s leg remains at full strength. Seven of his eight kickoffs against the Sun Devils resulted in touchbacks. He followed up his last field goal of the game with a 51-yard punt that buried Arizona State on its own 1-yard line late in the game. He also had two 50-plus-yard punts in a previous win against Michigan State that flipped field position and allowed Notre Dame to hang on to a slim lead.
“He’s that kind of player for us. We can really rely on him,” Kelly said.