Noie: Notre Dame's Tyler Newsome not your average punter

Staff reports
ND Insider

Stay in bed, under a blanket in the comfort of his Keenan Hall dorm where it was warm and safe and free from any stress or strain.

That was the initial thought of Notre Dame graduate student punter Tyler Newsome one spring morning in 2017. The Irish football team was coming off a 4-8 finish the previous fall and getting to know director of football performance coach Matt Balis. It felt like boot camp. Basic training. Demanding workouts that pushed players to their limits long before sunrise.

Ever been up and around South Bend in the spring before the sun? It’s dark. There’s still snow on the ground. Maybe some more falling. It’s cold and gloomy and sometimes downright miserable. Go outside? How about stay inside?

One of the first groups to work out that day was due in to the Haggar Fitness Complex at 5:45 a.m. Newsome could have stayed in bed until required to be over there for a team run at 7. His days were saturated and stressful enough as a student-athlete. Why would he be somewhere he didn’t have to be at such a dreaded hour?

Instead of burrowing in a bit longer, Newsome hopped out of bed, changed into his exercise gear and hustled to the Guglielmino Center — in the dark — to voluntarily join the early workout. He lifted. He ran. He sweated. He worked. His group’s own session with Balis was scheduled later in the day, which means he’d be doing doubles. The team’s punter. In the spring. Coming off 4-8.

Who does that? A guy who believes more in the “we” and less about “me.” Once at the morning session, Newsome realized he really had no choice. If he wanted to be the kind of leader that guys could and would look up to, could and would want to follow when he was a senior, he was going to the workout. So he did.

“Those were workouts that nobody wanted to be at,” Newsome said of the sessions that were dubbed by Balis as “Pay the Man” workouts. “It was like punting — nobody wants to be there. Nobody actively seeks to punt.”

Newsome knew he’d be there. He told himself as much the previous night before his head hit the pillow. Go to the workout. Push yourself. Be a leader before being a leader.

“I said to myself, ‘If I want to be a consistent guy on and off the field, then I need to do it all aspects of my life,’” said Newsome, who showed up for every early workout whether required or not. “Would the 16- or 18-year-old self be proud of the guy that you are now? That’s something that drives my work ethic.”

Those workouts — those double workouts — weren’t easy on Newsome. Not with everything else going on his life. Particularly academically. The management consulting major carried a heavy course load that semester, but that didn’t mean he could stop lifting in other areas. Including football. Especially football. Life for a couple of weeks was hard. After a couple of days, Newsome didn’t mind. For him, it was the new normal. He got through it.

“With all things in life, nothing’s easy,” he said. “Being a student-athlete here is not easy, but it’s worth it. Nobody wants to do something easy.

“You come here for the challenge.”

A different dude

Newsome answered the challenges that spring. He answered them that August in fall camp. Answered them last season when he averaged 43.7 yards on a career-high 63 kicks with only one blocked. He entered 2018 with the second-highest punting average (44.0) in program history. Now he needs to answer them this season — his final season. The pressure’s on, but for punters, it’s always on. He doesn’t need to hear it from the fans — even though he did with the collective groan of the 25-yarder he shanked in his first attempt against Michigan.

“This could be my last season of football,” he said. “It’s something I’m not taking for granted. I’m making sure to get the most out of each day. Give all I can.”

Give as one of the four team captains. Punters rarely are team captains. They’re punters. They’re on the field for a fraction of the plays run every Saturday. They may get one or two or if they’re lucky and good, three kicks that actually factor into the final score. Key guy? Yes. But captains? A Notre Dame team captain? The FIRST punter serving a season-long role of captain in the school’s storied football history? Him. How?

“I guess I’ve never really thought about it,” Newsome said. “I made a promise to myself when I was younger that I wanted to be a guy that I wanted to look up to if I was ever a captain. It’s always something in my mind.”

Newsome’s more than someone who does all his work on one down. The dude’s just different, something special teams coach Brian Polian realized about 10 seconds into their first interaction.

“I first thought he was weird,” Polian said of someone who sported a haircut cross between a mullet and a Mohawk during preseason camp. “Then I got to know him. You better think about what you say to him. He listens to every word and remembers everything you say.”

First time Polian watched Newsome work, he wondered if he needed to go out and recruit a new punter. Newsome’s pigeon-toed. When he runs, Polian said, he’s got “body parts flying everywhere.” He doesn’t really look the part, until he’s asked to play the part. That’s when it all comes together. The right leg of the 6-foot-3 214-pounder goes up. Strikes the ball. Keeps going up. The ball sails high and long into the sky.

That, Polian thinks to himself, is how it should be done. Textbook.

“What it is is a compliment to how hard he works with the intricacies of what he does,” Polian said.

Like most specialists, Newsome remains his toughest critic. Polian can scream and yell until he loses his voice — and did during preseason — at Newsome. Head coach Brian Kelly can challenge him to hit consecutive 50-yard plus punts, something he did in preseason camp. Newsome is always running through a checklist of what to correct for the next kick. The next day.

The day before Kelly challenged him to rocket a second 50-plus yarder, Newsome admitted he had one of his worst days of preseason. He kicked terribly. Never found a rhythm. The only live rep he had at the end of practice was, in Newsome’s opinion a “very average punt.”

His mindset the rest of the afternoon, the rest of the week, was to be better. For himself. For the team. Newsome went back to his dorm that day and wrote down that goal — deliver in practice. Then he did. Then he didn’t dwell on it. Any of it.

“It was a good feeling for me to do that,” he said. “But it’s about delivering on a consistent basis.”

Kickers are self-absorbed by nature. They have one job. They have to do it well. Every time. Do it, and nobody notices. Don’t do it, and everybody notices. Newsome’s seldom about Newsome. If he was, he’d have remained in bed that spring day and the ones that followed.

“There is nothing about Tyler that’s self-centered; he is other-centered,” Polian said. “He’s a great human being. He embodies Notre Dame.

“Being around a guy like that is a lot of fun.”

Notre Dame’s Tyler Newsome (85) knows being a team captain means more than just what happens on the field.