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Carl Gioia: It was always all about the kickoffs for Gioia

Joe Meixell | Friday, November 17, 2006

When Carl Gioia came to Notre Dame games as a little kid, he didn’t focus on the quarterback or the running game.

He focused on the kickoffs.

“I remember coming to the games when I was little and at kickoffs everyone was yelling and I thought, ‘I’ll come here if I can do that a couple times,'” Gioia said. “It is a little bit different, because kickoffs, especially at Notre Dame have a lot more adrenaline. The whole crowd goes wild.”

The senior kicker has been able to kick off more than a “couple times” during his career in South Bend.

While backing up Nick Setta and D.J. Fitzpatrick on the depth chart, he was used by coaches Tyrone Willingham and Charlie Weis as a kickoff specialist. During his sophomore and junior years, Gioia bounced in and out of the starting lineup, depending on the game plan.

“Kickoffs take a lot out of your leg, so you kind of have to rotate guys,” Gioia said of the lineup changes. “Plus, different guys have different skills and sometimes the game plan is different.”

Although he didn’t trot out to kick off in every game, Gioia kicked off 44 times his sophomore and junior years, often in the cauldron of noise in Notre Dame Stadium that attracted him to the job in the first place.

Once he got on the field, however, Gioia realized that booting a ball in front of 80,000 people is not as easy as it looks.

“[Crowd noise] can actually be counter-productive because as a kicker you have to be calm and concentrate,” he said.

During those two years, Gioia was able to learn from Setta and Fitzpatrick.

“Those were two top-of-the-line guys,” Gioia said. “They were just as good of friends as they were teammates and players. Just looking at their work ethic, they really taught a lot to me and [senior punter] Geoff Price and [senior kicker] Bobby Renkes.”

Now in his senior year, Gioia has become the consistent starting placekicker -Notre Dame’s main option for field goals and extra points. Gioia is 7-for-11 on field goals and 39-for-43 on extra points this season.

The year didn’t start well, however. In his first start, Sept. 2 against Georgia Tech, Gioia missed two field goals.

The set back didn’t faze him, however. Gioia made two field goals the next week against Penn State.

“It was just another work week,” Gioia said. “I just went through my routine and did fine against Penn State. It’s like in other sports, a shooter misses a shot or a pitcher gives up a home run, you have to have a short memory.”

Gioia has passed on that wisdom to freshman kicker Ryan Burkhart.

“He’s good a really good leg and he’s got a good head on his shoulders,” Gioia said of the newcomer. “He has to fine tune things, as every freshman does, but he’ll have a great career.”

Coming out of high school in Valparaiso, Ind., Gioia was offered a chance to start right away in the Ivy League for Harvard, Columbia or Yale, but he chose to walk on in Division I for the Irish.

Gioia said the academic drop off was so small and Notre Dame’s football advantage so big that his choice was easy.

“The Notre Dame degree is just as golden as getting to the NFL and playing football,” he said.

Gioia is one of only two Irish players in a pre-professional program, and, although he has another year of football eligibility that he might use, he has applied to several dental schools.

“It can get pretty rigorous,” Gioia said of playing football and studying one of the University’s toughest majors. “I had two midterms last year the Thursday before USC. I’ll be better for it in the end. The nice thing about Notre Dame is I feel prepared for anything I might end up doing.”