Notre Dame K Justin Yoon leans on routine in win over Navy

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Justin Yoon is a product of the process.

Every kick — no matter the spot on the field, or the score of the game, or the size of the stadium — is met with an identical approach.

Three steps backwards, all of equal length.

Two steps to the left at a 90-degree angle.

One step, two steps, swing, follow-through.

This is the recipe that carried Yoon to Notre Dame.

“I make sure that it’s repeatable every single time,” he said.

It was no different in the waning seconds of the first half on Saturday, as the 5-foot-10, 185-pound freshman trotted onto the field inside an anxious Notre Dame Stadium, with the Irish and Midshipmen tied at 21.

It made no difference that the 52-yard attempt was the longest of his admittedly brief collegiate career, or that more than 80,000 fans hung on the swing of his leg. These were useless details, cast aside in favor of cold, mathematical, repetitive mechanics.

Same steps. Same swing.

Inevitably, same result.

“When I’m in front of a lot of people I start to get nervous and everything. But on the field, it feels like I’m in my own bubble,” Yoon said, his black hair parted neatly to the side. “I’m right there with my teammates. It’s just me, my football and my guys. That’s where all the focus comes from.

“I never realize that there’s 85,000 (people watching). That’s the funny part.”

Given the precision devoted to each step in the process, Saturday’s success was largely predictable. Yoon’s 52-yard attempt traveled a few yards further, dropping through the uprights as the first half drew neatly to a close.

It was the third-longest made field goal in Notre Dame history.

But with that being said, it wasn’t a surprise.

“We knew what his distance was in pregame,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said. “We always establish what we think his max distance is going that way. We had a little bit of a breeze there and his max distance was right at that number. So, we were confident that if the mechanics were good and the snap was good and the hold was good, that he could make it.”

Yoon, who has connected on 7 of 9 field goal attempts and 24 of 26 extra points this season, rewarded Kelly’s faith.

“I just thought, ‘This is an amazing opportunity that coach has given me,’ Yoon said. “It was amazing that he let me go for it. I love that there’s all this trust in me and the whole team. I really enjoy that aspect.”

That trust is all the more important, considering the bumps Yoon has already overcome. Inevitably, the Nashville, Tenn., native’s adjustment to an elevated stage yielded some shaky moments. He missed extra point tries in back-to-back games against Georgia Tech and UMass, forcing the freshman to re-evaluate his mechanics. That meant a greater emphasis on clearing his hips and finishing kicks.

But perhaps more importantly, clearing his mind from one kick to the next.

“Honestly, my thought was, ‘I can’t build on the past. I just have to go on forward with the next one,’” Yoon said. “That’s our motto with coach (Scott) Booker and coach Kelly. Get rid of that last one. Get to the next one.

“Same with the 52-yarder. Yeah, it’s great that I made it. But that next field goal, that’s another opportunity.”

Yoon has certainly made the most of his opportunities in recent weeks, connecting on a 46-yard field goal and an extra point in a driving rain storm at Clemson, before piling on two more field goals and five extra points in Notre Dame’s 41-24 victory over Navy on Saturday.

The process continues to be the same – from approach, to kick, to follow-through.

And finally, celebration.

After every made kick, Yoon, holder DeShone Kizer and long snapper Scott Daly form a loose triangle, clasp their hands together and bow.

It may be silly, sure, but there’s no breaking routine.

“There was some other stuff that we were talking about, but I think mainly it was Scott (Daly),” Yoon said with a grin. “He said, ‘We should try it out. Maybe it’ll be a fun rhythmic thing.’

“It’s definitely enjoyable.”

Notre Dame’s Justin Yoon (19) celebrates with teammates Scott Daly (61) and DeShone Kizer (14) after kicking for an extra point during the Notre Dame-Massachusetts NCAA college football game on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN

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Notre Dame’s Justin Yoon (19) kicks during the Notre Dame-Navy football game on Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN