Blue and Gold Illustrated

Preseason 2016

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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52 PRESEASON 2016 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY LOU SOMOGYI T here might not be another po- sition on the 2016 Notre Dame football team that can more eas- ily be taken for granted than placekicker. After a shaky start, 2015 freshman Justin Yoon — considered the top kicker recruit in that cycle — missed neither a field goal nor an extra point in his final nine contests. He earned Freshman All-Amer- ica notice from three differ- ent outlets after finishing 15 of 17 (.882) on his field goal attempts, highlighted by a 52-yarder versus Navy as time expired in the first half to give Notre Dame a 24-21 lead. Yoon's 95 points were the third most ever tallied by a Fighting Irish kicker, trail- ing only Kyle Brindza's 98 (2013) and 97 (2012). On the list of concerns for head coach Brian Kelly and his staff, Yoon would rank near the bottom, right? Not necessarily. Prior to Yoon's sterling debut, the five single great- est kicking seasons in Notre Dame annals — Harry Oli- ver (1980), Mike Johnston (1982), John Carney (1984), David Ruffer (2010) and Kyle Brindza (2013) — were fol- lowed by huge struggles by the same kickers the next year in which their field goal percentage fell regularly by 30 points. "You look at our special teams situation and it's just making sure that there's a growth development with a freshman kicker," Kelly said in early August. "That's an area that you have to always be concerned with. … More than anything else, making sure there's really good development from year one to year two, especially with the placekicker." The Aug. 11 practice session began with special teams kicking. Yoon drilled his first two attempts from inside the 30 — but then finished by missing his final four from 35 to about 45 yards. A week later in another open prac- tice, his lone attempt in a 25-minute scrimmage, from 31 yards, missed. Similar problems occurred last spring after Yoon made the switch in holders from one quarterback (DeShone Kizer) to another (Montgomery VanGorder). The rhythm was off in the next practice when Yoon missed three straight field goals, but he put the blame on himself for not planting properly. In the final open practice (Aug. 17), Yoon returned to better form, drilling 3 of 4 field goal attempts, the longest from 45 yards, but also missing from 33 yards. His concentration this Au- gust was centered on finding the right form that eventually will allow him to consistently convert kicks. "It's gone a lot better this week," Yoon said a couple of days later. "I was working a lot on my form rou- tine, because I knew I was off some- where. That's all I've been working on. I haven't been thinking about mak- ing or missing the kicks at all, because that's what matters in games. … It's been a confidence booster, just know- ing that my routine is always solid and complete. "It's the smallest things. If I don't hit the right sweet spot in my foot, which can be one inch off, one centimeter off, the ball is going right, the ball is going left, very quickly, just like that. It's a matter of making sure I can hit that precise, and rhythm, and routine over and over again." Per Kelly, Notre Dame's special teams were much more of an un- certainty entering last season while breaking in a new kicker (Yoon) and punter (then-sophomore Tyler Newsome). Yoon acknowledged that at the start of last season there was some initial stage fright, result- ing in missing field goals his first two games and then extra points at Adding More KICK Freshman All-American Justin Yoon is striving for another strong result Yoon did not miss on a field goal or an extra point in the final nine games of 2015. PHOTO BY JOE RAYMOND

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