SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Standing at 6-foot-1 and weighing 231 pounds, Notre Dame placekicker Kyle Brindza is built more like a linebacker than a kicker. But that doesn't stop opposing teams from taunting him because of the position he plays and the reputation that comes with it.
Brindza, though, enjoys the snide comments lobbed his way from guys who are bigger and stronger than him. That's because, when a game's on the line in the fourth quarter, Brindza's the one in control.
"It's fun to hear them chip because it's like, alright, I can shut you up," Brindza said.
Having a reliable kicker certainly isn't a given at the college level. In fact, college kickers are so notoriously unreliable that there's the #CollegeKicker Twitter hashtag devoted to their failures.
Alabama could've played in last year's BCS Championship had Cade Foster not missed all three field goal attempts he took against Auburn. Oregon had championship bids ruined in 2011 and 2012 thanks in part to Alejandro Maldonado's crushing misses against USC and Stanford. Boise State -- ranked by one measure as the best team in college football in 2010 -- had its best shot at a championship dashed when Kyle Brotzman missed a 27-yard chip shot against Nevada.
Notre Dame's 2012 run to the BCS Championship could've been similarly torpedoed if Brindza didn't connect on critical field goals against Oklahoma, USC and in the five games decided by a touchdown or less that year.
"I am not a normal kicker as I always say," Brindza said. "I am one of the few that likes pressure, and that’s when I feel I perform the best.”
In two years as Notre Dame's placekicker, Brindza has made 14 of 15 field goal attempts in the fourth quarter, and his only miss came in last year's season opener against Temple -- a game Notre Dame was already on its way to winning.
Given Notre Dame red zone issues in the last two years -- bottom-barrel touchdown rates of 48 percent in 2012 and 53 percent in 2013 -- Brindza's effectiveness has been incredibly important for the team's success.
"Sometimes we gloss over it, but I think we've got one of the finest kickers in the country in Kyle Brindza, and I think games are decided at that position," coach Brian Kelly said. I think he's an outstanding player for us."
Obviously, Notre Dame would like to find the end zone more frequently and not have to rely on Brindza to put points on the board. But he's an excellent safety net, the kind of guy who can drill five field goals against Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl with ease.
Brindza's favorite all-time athlete is former Yankees closer Mariano Rivera and he's studied the routines of some of the top golfers in the world, rattling off Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy earlier this week. That routine is critical -- it allows Brindza to not over think things and calmly step onto the field in a pressure-packed situation.
"You can look at any kicker, they do the exact same steps, the exact same step-over, breathe in, breathe out, whatever they have to do to get ready," Brindza said. "It's the same thing every kick, and that's how I am. I literally clear my mind and just see the uprightsand pick out a little target in the crowd between the uprights."
Brindza's role isn't just as a kicker. For the second straight year, he'll handle punting and kickoff duties, though freshman Tyler Newsome could handle a few kickoffs as the year goes on.
But the senior's greatest value to Notre Dame is on field goals. He relishes the opportunity to put points on the board for his team -- and keeping those opposing players and fans quiet, too, no matter the situation. In fact, the more pressure, the better.
"If you think you can drive the ball right down the pipe, you can do it," Brindza said. "If you believe you can strike out three guys in the ninth inning, you can do it. You just gotta be able to understand that it's muscle memory.
"You've done it a thousand times, why can't you do it right now and that's how it is for me."