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Brindza embraces pressure to prepare for title game

Chris Allen | Saturday, January 5, 2013

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Notre Dame sophomore kicker Kyle Brindza knows it is true – one of the most-hyped college football games in recent memory may hinge on his right foot.

But the man who kicked more field goals in 2012 than any Irish player had in history is not concerned with pressure.

“I love pressure. I love it. That’s one of the biggest things to me,” Brindza said. “Not many kickers like pressure, you can see kickers all the time fold under pressure. But some are successful in pressure, and that’s one of the biggest things for me.”

It has been an unthinkable season for the sophomore, who began the season as a kickoff specialist and ended it with 23 made field goals – the Notre Dame single-season record. When he steps on the field at Sun Life Stadium Monday night, Brindza said he will be fulfilling a very specific childhood dream.

“My biggest dream growing up went beyond, say, kicking in the Super Bowl or the national championship,” he said. “My biggest dream was kicking in the national championship for Notre Dame – being able to run out of the tunnel and onto the field in that gold helmet. The kicker’s dream is being able to go out there and kick in a game like this.”

National title games are feast or famine for a placekicker, as the magnified national stage can make heroes out of them or relegate them to punchlines. Brindza’s Alabama counterpart on Monday, Jeremy Shelley, made five field goals in last year’s BCS National Championship Game after an up-and-down regular season. Brindza said he relishes the opportunity to make an impact on such an important game, rather than focusing on the implications of failure.

“As a kid, it’s always your dream to play in the national championship and, for me, to be able to kick a field goal in the national championship,” he said. “When you’re under pressure, you have to go out there and make it. It forces you to make the correct decisions on your approach and your fundamentals.”

Notre Dame’s special teams coordinator Scott Booker, who also serves as tight ends coach, has overseen Brindza’s rise over the course of the 2012 season. For his part, Booker said the coaching staff has full confidence in Brindza to make crucial kicks Monday night.

“Anytime you can break records at Notre Dame where they’ve been playing football for over 100 years, you’re doing a good job,” Booker said. “We’re really excited about the things he’s doing and his maturity in his ability to kick in pressure situations. He’s consistent, he does his job and is prepared to go in any time during the game.

“He’s been ready every week. We just need him to be able to do that one more week.”

Brindza has performed his best in some of the most important Irish games this season, going a combined 8-for-10 in road wins over Oklahoma and USC. Brindza’s five field goals against USC included a 52-yard effort as time expired in the first half to extend Notre Dame’s lead to 16-10. Booker said the staff has been pleased with the sophomore’s ability to perform in the biggest games.

“We have confidence in all our players, and that’s shown in the positions we put them in,” Booker said. “Specifically with Kyle, we’ve put him in positions where he’s had to make big kicks and he’s done that. As a coaching staff, we don’t even think of the other outcome in mind. We just have one outcome in mind, and usually Kyle’s been able to perform that outcome. We’re looking for that one more time.”

Brindza will kick in the national championship on Monday with more than the support of his Irish coaching staff. His longtime kicking coach, Brandon Kornblue, will be attending the game – making the trip from his nearby home of Naples, Fla. Current Arizona Cardinals kicker Jay Feely has also advised the sophomore on how to kick under extreme pressure. Together, Kornblue and Feely – two former Michigan kickers – have given Notre Dame’s kicker the confidence to do the one task he needs to do well to hoist a trophy: make his kicks.

“I talk to [Kornblue] to steady my nerves and keep my focus on my fundamentals,” Brindza said. “[Feely] told me it’s just another game. He said ‘You’ve done it before, why can’t you do it in this game?’”

If he can, Brindza might go down as a hero of a Notre Dame national championship.

Contact Chris Allen at callen10@nd.edu