A return to form for Notre Dame kicker Justin Yoon?
SOUTH BEND — Justin Yoon kept replaying the video of himself until he said he was sick of it — and then some, trying to diagnose the mechanical flaws that were subverting his accuracy and eventually gnawing at his confidence.
The surprising volume of kicks hooking and pushing outside the uprights during media windows in practice last spring and in August training camp weren’t a small-sample-size distortion, the Notre Dame sophomore admitted.
The possessor of the fourth-longest (and still active) field goal made streak in school history was in a mental tailspin, a year after earning freshman All-America honors with 15-of-17 accuracy and the third-longest field goal (52 yards) ever booted by an ND kicker.
The easy stab at the problem, from the outside looking in, was to wonder about the swap of holders for Yoon.
Long-armed, 6-foot-4 quarterback DeShone Kizer held down that role during the 2015 season, one he auditioned for when he was the third-string QB the previous spring and kept as he rose to the top of the quarterback depth chart.
Current fifth-string quarterback, 6-foot Montgomery VanGorder, has taken over, given he has much more time to synch up with Yoon and long snapper Scott Daly in practice than Kizer does these days.
“I can trust whoever’s holding for me,” the 5-10, 190-pound Yoon said, dismissing the personnel change.
It was mechanics — Yoon’s mechanics — he said that made him look less than automatic. Small details that added up to significant variations in trajectory.
“I’ve been having struggles hitting the ball with my foot properly,” he said, “having struggles of making sure I’m finishing straight through all the way to the field goal posts in the middle.
“Sometimes my body alignment is off, my rhythm is off. And so I work on each and every little detail that I could to this point, and I think I’ve overcome all the hurdles.”
The day after his imperfections were on display for the media last week, Yoon reportedly nailed all seven of his attempts the next practice session.
“I feel like at this point, I’ve come to a solid point where I could say I’m very confident. It’s just a matter of getting ready for Texas now.”
The list of contributors that have Yoon’s head in a happier place for a date with Texas in Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on Sept. 4 include Irish head coach Brian Kelly — a non-kicker during his own playing days — and an former elite figure skater. For the first time in third-year Longhorns coach Charlie Strong’s, the 100,119-seat facility is expected to be at capacity that night.
It was Jiseop Yoon, once an Olympic figure skater for his native South Korea, who taught son Justin, once a hockey player, how to kick a soccer ball and later a football. And it is Jiseop who calls every day after practice to talk kicking mechanics.
The Ohio-born Justin Yoon — who now calls Nashville, Tenn., home but attended boarding school in Massachusetts at Milton Academy — is happy to have the feedback.
“He used to play soccer, too,” the younger Yoon said. “He’s a great role model.”
Yoon occasionally taps former ND kicker Kyle Brindza for advice, who went through his own struggles in 2014, the season before Yoon arrived at ND and a year in which Kelly demoted Brindza’s holder and replaced him with QB Malik Zaire.
“I had all the routine and abilities, but it’s a different impact going from 100 people (watching in the stands) to 80,000,” Yoon said of his biggest source of culture shock last season. “That’s just a complete game-changer.”
“So after figuring that out last year, I feel a lot more confident. I know where I’m at now. I’ve performed in front of 80,000. I know what I can do. It’s just getting out there on the stage and making sure I do what I need to do.”
Said Kelly, “His operation times are outstanding, so it has nothing to do with operation. Just consistency in his mechanics. I think he's close.
“When we get ready to play Texas, I think he'll be right on.”