NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Kyle Brindza's workload is steadily expanding. The Notre Dame kicker was a kickoff specialist as a freshman in 2011, he added field goals and extra points to his plate in 2012 and Brindza is now expected to handle punting duties as well when the 2013 season rolls around.
The dual duties are nothing new to Brindza. He kicked and punted at Plymouth High School in Canton, Mich.
"Back in high school I would say yeah I was a kicker and a punter," said Brindza. "But I would say I was more a kicker and a raw punter. Now I can finally truly call myself a pure kicker and a pure punter, because now I've finally worked on the fundamentals of punting."
Brindza made a Michigan state record 19 field goals as a senior in 2010. He also averaged 43.2 yards per punt that season while also booting 60 of his 63 kickoffs for touchbacks. Just like a stud high school pitcher can blow fastballs by batters with raw strength, a strong-legged kicker/punter can do the same. Doing both consistently at the college level is another story though.
"I finally understand when I hit a bad punt why that happened; just as if I hit a bad field goal I'm able to understand why I did that," Brindza explained. "I can finally understand now that I'm a punter and a kicker not just a kicker and a raw punter."
Brindza has 142 kickoffs to his credit through two seasons with the Irish. Thirty eight of them (including 26 last season) have been touchbacks - a rate of nearly 27%. He also connected on 23 of 31 field goals in 2012 to break John Carney's 1986 record of 21 in a season.
Adding punting to the mix is a new dynamic for Brindza. Although he has practiced it during his first two years on campus he is yet to punt in a game. The Irish spent the bulk of their 2013 practice season indoors, meaning Brindza could was not doing actual punting.
"I didn't have a ball for the first half of the spring," Brindza said. "I kept on going through my form and I finally got outside and I wanted to see how I (would do) and I did pretty well from my standards. Pretty much for me it's just understanding muscle memory."
The lack of actual punting probably showed itself during Notre Dame's recent Blue-Gold spring game. Brindza punted seven times for a total of 211 yards that day - an average of just 30.1 yards (Louisiana Tech's Ryan Allen led the nation with a 48.0 average in 2012, while averages in the 41.0 range ranked around 50th nationally).
Brindza does send videos to his personal kicking coach, Brandon Kornblue, for critiques, but he says he has made his biggest strides thanks to his up close mentoring on campus.
"Coach (Bob) Diaco is helping me out tremendously," Brindza said. "He's been able to take the time, not only for his linebackers, but (also) for us punters as well. To be able to go out there and understand the fundamentals of punting - he's incorporated that with me - just making sure I'm really focused on my form. He's been drilling that into me like he drills his linebackers and it's obviously helped me out a lot."
"The biggest thing he points out to me is explosion," Brindza continued of the tips he gets from Diaco. "He kind of relates it to tackling. When you are about to tackle someone you kind of stop a little and then you start back up and you explode into the player. That's the biggest thing for me - as a kicker you kind of explode downfield, but as a punter you've got to explode up. That's the biggest thing for me and it's helping my hang time tremendously."
There are other subtle differences between place kicking and punting that the junior to be is still working on refining as well.
"You have to walk a proper line," Brindza said of one of punting. "You have to understand your drop and you have to understand it's kind of (like) pushing a ball off the table somewhat. Everything's got to be still whereas (with a) field goal it's right there for you, but (with) punting you have to do everything for yourself."
"I would say there are more checks punting than there are kicking," Brindza continued. "You can punt a ball different ways - you can kick a ball all these different ways, but when it comes down to it in the end I would say punting is harder to pick up and I've definitely focused on that a lot. I'd say there are 10 more checks to do on punting than there are field goals."
Brindza has a busy summer ahead of him. While most of his offensive and defensive teammates will spend the bulk of their summer on campus, Brindza will be working about every other weekend with Kornblue at various kicking camps around the country.
He will be working with and mentoring high school age kickers at the camps, but will arrive a day early each time to hone his own punting and skills with Kornblue, who handled both kicking and punting duties for Michigan's 1997 national championship team.
"In the summer you are kind of working on your own being that coaches can't really help you out," Brindza commented. "I can't really talk to coach Diaco and be out there with him, so it's a time for me to go out in a different place and work with my kicking coach."
Brindza's summer travel schedule will take him to places like Michigan, Texas, North Carolina, Atlanta, Arizona, and Indianapolis. Kornblue helps refine not only Brindza's kicking and punting mechanics, but also his mental state.
"Kicking and punting is more mental than it is physical," Brindza explained. "You're the one going out there. Pretty much you're the lonesome kicker everyone says. If you don't have that mentality and confidence in yourself then you've pretty much already shanked the punt or missed a field goal. That's the biggest thing (Kornblue) instills in us."