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From doubtful to dependable: Doerer proves vital following initial struggles

| Friday, December 18, 2020

Jonathan Doerer is taking everything in stride. He’s approaching it in a similar way to how he does his on-field duties — minus the deep breaths, visualization and four twists of his arm that make up his pre-kick ritual.

His time with the Irish has been a journey, one in which the current result was not always clear.

“I came in, I mean, I [was] 18, 19 years old. I had certain expectations for what this was going to be like that were obviously wrong,” Doerer said.

The senior placekicker and kickoff specialist out of Charlotte, NC came in as the 14th-ranked kicker in the 2017 class per 247Sports. After serving almost exclusively in kickoff duty during his first two seasons, the starting kicker spot opened up when Notre Dame’s all-time leading scorer, Justin Yoon, graduated following the 2018 campaign.

While not on the level of a typical off-season Notre Dame quarterback competition, the kicking position saw its own battle going into 2019. Current sophomore Harrison Leonard was reportedly challenging for the starting spot, with talks that the preferred walk-on might actually beat Doerer out.

Doerer’s first impression as a kicker was not the most ideal. He was an injury plug for Yoon against Navy in 2018, and he proceeded to miss his first extra point attempt of the game. Granted, he went 5-6 on PATs for the contest, plus a 30-yard field goal against the Midshipmen, but it appeared that it wasn’t clicking for Doerer.

“When I was younger … I wasn’t thinking as much about what I needed to do, what this looked like, what success looked like,” Doerer said. “So I didn’t believe as much that I was going to be as good, and I didn’t really know what that looked like. I’ve started a little bit, and that kind of recalibrated my mind and what success … meant for me, what I needed to do to get there.”

Observer File Photo
Irish senior placekicker Johnathan Doerer sizes up for a kickoff during Notre Dame’s 52-0 shutout win over Bowling Green on Oct. 5, 2019 at Notre Dame Stadium.

Fast forward 10 months, and Doerer was 5-5 on extra points in a season-opening win at Louisville. The next game he was 7-7 with a 36-yard field goal to close the first half against New Mexico. He was passing the eye test, but then came the real one: a top-10 road matchup with Georgia.

Doerer knocked through both of his extra point attempts and his lone field goal, a 27-yarder, that gave Notre Dame a 10-7 halftime lead over the Bulldogs. In spite of an eventual Notre Dame loss, Doerer did his job when they needed him to. A few games later, he would step up even further.

In another night matchup, this time against archrival USC, Doerer converted on three field goals, including a 52-yarder into the wind. It was the first 50-yard field goal for the Irish since Yoon kicked one against Navy in 2015. That conversion was of the utmost importance considering Notre Dame escaped with a three-point victory.

“I realized I had to make a lot of technical advancements in my game if I wanted to play at the level that I wanted to, [that I] needed to,” Doerer said in regard to his preparation for the 2019 season. “And so, that was just a lot of time working on a lot of fundamentals, whether it be … shortening my steps, being more compact in my swing, working on ball striking, all those little things that add up to … make a difference on Saturdays.”

It made a difference against the Trojans. Doerer earned the game ball that night and, perhaps more impressively, was dubbed The Observer’s Player of the Game in our postgame Irish Insider.

He also credited the way he went about his business outside of football with helping him progress on the field.

“There’s also other aspects of life just, you know, ultimately just being more serious, doing a better job with your schoolwork, being more on top of your social life; all the things that I feel like I didn’t handle that well when I was younger, that I got a lot better at handling when I was older,” he said. “That contributed to getting better as a football player.”

Even after missing a field goal apiece against Virginia, in a slog on the road against Stanford and, perhaps most imperatively, in a 21-20 win over Virginia Tech, Doerer remained steadfast in his approach.

Against the Hokies, on the ensuing offensive possession following Doerer’s miss from 35 yards graduate student quarterback Ian Book capped an 18-play, 87-yard drive with a game-tying six points with 29 seconds left. It would then come down to Doerer’s extra point attempt to put the Irish on top.

Following a low snap and clutch hold by sophomore punter/holder Jay Bramblett, Doerer nailed the extra point, just like any of the other 56 PAT attempts he knocked through without a miss on the year.

Doerer spoke to the importance of the relationship he has with the other specialists in his kicking unit.

“Me and Jay have a great relationship,” Doerer said. “I have a ton of confidence in [him]; high school quarterback, he’s got great hands, really good athlete. Same thing with [junior] Michael Vinson, our long snapper; we have a great relationship and a lot of trust there, which certainly makes my job that much easier.”

Doerer would finish his junior season 57-57 on extra points and 17-20 on field goals. His 85% conversion rate on field goals was better than all but one of Yoon’s four years as kicker, and the 17 makes tied Yoon’s single-season high as a senior.

Doerer would cap 2019 with a 4-4 performance against Iowa State in the Camping World Bowl (now the Cheez-It Bowl), including a 51-yard knuckleball through the uprights. His shrug of apparent disbelief after that make underscores the impressive gains Doerer has made. But despite the impressive stat line he had amassed, Doerer didn’t rest on his laurels.

“I tried to come to this field when I was a junior, you know, five times a week in the spring, six times a week in the summer,” Doerer said. “That didn’t mean I kicked every day; that meant I was working on something kicking related every day. And that just allowed me to build confidence — my routine and confidence — what I was doing that made performing that much easier.”

So far this season Doerer — who plans to come back for a fifth year thanks to the NCAA’s coronavirus-motivated blanket waiver — is 3-4 on field goals, having missed a chippie against South Florida. It might make one wonder about the impact of a diminished crowd on a kicker, but Doerer downplayed that factor.

“I honestly haven’t been able to notice that much of a difference,” he said. “I think we’ve done a really good job keeping the game day atmosphere as realistic as possible given the circumstances. And for me, it’s never really about who’s in the stands. You know, when you’re on the field, does it feel like there’s 80,000 people out there? You don’t really realize that.”

All in all, Doerer has matured to the point that even misses fail to faze him.

“Misses happen,” he said. “The game goes on. Like we like to say, ‘the most important kick is the next kick; the most important play in football is next play.’ So I feel pretty comfortable if I miss; it’s part of the game, it’s gonna happen. But, you know, just move on. It’s all about the next kick.”

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About Hayden Adams

Hayden is the former sports editor of The Observer. When he's not working toward his four majors (physics and film, television & theatre) and three minors (journalism, ethics & democracy), you can probably find him hopelessly trying to save his beloved Zahm House from being wiped out. He plans to attend law school at a TBD location after graduation.

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