What would have happened last season had the officials in the FSU game held onto that yellow flag of death on Notre Dame’s final drive? How good could Notre Dame have been with wide receivers like Randy Moss or Allen Iverson? How dominant is the USC alumni football team in the California penal system? Football provides an endless supply of hypotheticals and questions. One that has haunted most football fans since times unknown is one that reaches to the very heart of existence:
Are kickers people?
This is a difficult question. Most fans refuse to accept that kickers are included in the definition of “football players.” As it turns out, HLS’s very own Molly may have confirmation from Football 101 that BVG feels the same way:
BVG recommends your daughters date linebackers. (Kicker and long snapper were suggested but he said they aren't really football players)
— Molly (@LluckoftheIrish) June 9, 2015
Kickers lead a tortured existence. You see, kickers are the United States Postal Service of football. They are expected to accomplish their jobs without fail, no matter the conditions. They are understood to be necessary but there is always a rumbling growl just below the surface about how they’re antiquated and should be eliminated. For doing their job well, there is no thanks. Just expectation that they do it again the next time. One instance of failure is met with anger and outrage that they couldn’t complete their one simple task. And sure, there are times when they bring gifts of great joy, but those instances are generally few and far between. The majority of the time they just deliver the mundane and unremarkable. I wouldn’t wish being a kicker on my worst enemy. Kickers are rarely remembered for their best makes. It’s far more likely he’ll be remembered for his worst miss.
Come to think of it…maybe I would wish being a kicker on my worst enemy. I think Pete Carroll would have looked good in a single bar face mask, yipping about the field, and then missing a field goal to the right as time expires to give Notre Dame the win. One man’s nightmare is another man’s fantasy.
Okay, okay…there is a point to all of this. Notre Dame’s lost a pretty darn fine kicker in Kyle Brindza. His senior year won’t go down as the greatest in history, but Brindza’s career was still quite good…for a kicker. Better for him, he’s someone who has a chance at being remembered for his final make versus LSU as opposed to some kicks earlier in the season that I’ve selectively blocked from my memory with the assistance of my personal therapist, Dr. Jack Daniels. Brindza’s graduation means the reign of the next great postal worker is upon us. His name is Justin Yoon. The expectations for Yoon will be the same as they are for all kickers: Know your place, thank you for not having the name Blewett (for the non-PITT familiar, that last name is pronounced BLEW-IT), and NEVER MISS.
Erase from your mind the possibility of Justin Yoon ever reaching these pattern expectations for kickers, and you just might realize that he’s got a great opportunity to be a great one (or at least as mildly disappointing as a kicker may be). Yoon comes in as the #1 kicking prospect in the country according to most of the recruiting services. Kicker ratings are volatile like most other rankings. Consider Brindza himself. Kyle was ranked #1 by 247 Sports, #6 by ESPN, and #17 by Rivals. Probably because, let’s be honest, most recruiting services don’t spend a ton of time trying to research kickers. Yet, Yoon is as close to a consensus #1 as you can get. Rivals had Yoon #1. 247 Sports had Yoon #1. ESPN had Yoon #2. So, at bare minimum, the Massachusetts product did a good job getting his name out there.
I could say my expectations for Yoon are that he will kick dat ball good, and I think that would be a fair, complete assessment. Yet, I wanted to have some guidepost as to what that might mean. So, I decided to look at the top 2 kicking prospects according to 247 Sports Composite rankings for each year from 2010 to 2014 and see how the best of the worst (because they’re still kickers, these jokes write themselves!) faired on field goal attempts:
|Harrison Butker||2013||GA Tech||10/14||11/18||NA||NA||65.6%|
*Christy only served as a punter during his collegiate career.
** Comically, it does not appear Williams ever kicked or punted. He may have been recruited to punt, but it appears he ever even did that.
If the chart above tells you anything, it’s that being a top flight kicker does not mean you’re going to kick at 80+% automatically. Only Duke’s Ross Martin has a legitimate shot at the moment to achieve that lofty feet. As shocking as it may be to some, none approached kicking 100% of their field goals for their career. Andre Heidari, Ross Martin, and Harrison Butker all had very good kicking seasons as true freshmen. That’s promising given that Yoon will similarly see his feet (but primarily his right foot) put to the fire this Fall. Of course, all three of those guys also saw percentage-wise poorer seasons as sophomores.
Also, remember Kyle Brindza’s “terrible” 2014? He was less than 1 percentage point (less than a kick! Maybe a dribble) away from Adam Griffith’s career field goal percentage of 59.1%. Griffith was the “best” of the 3 Bama commits on this list. Seriously, if you’re feeling a bit down and want to see Nick Saban fail at something, Google you some “Nick Saban Alabama kickers.” You will find some hilarious articles and message boards (as I did) discussing Saban’s inability to stabilize the kicking game at Bama. You see, in the SEC they play this sport the rest of the nation is unfamiliar with. It’s called “man ball.” Man Ball needs mighty fine kickers because no one bothers to score actual touchdowns. As such, the Ess-eee-see takes them some kicking very seriously. RAAAWWWWLLLLLL TAAAAAHHHHDDDDDDDDD.
But I digress. This is about Justin Yoon and what to expect. Like it or not, the freshman name ND fans will hear most often is very likely to be Justin Yoon. I won’t go so far as to proclaim him the “most important” for the coming season, but he will certainly be the most prominent. As far as kicking recruits go, he’s as good a one as you can ask for. How that translates to the college game is up for debate. There are two ways of describing the chart above: 1) That the well recruited kickers are all fairly similar. Looking at the kickers who actually tried their foot at kicking and eliminating the high and low man, the career field goal percentages of the middle ranged from 65.6% to 75%. Basically 1 extra made field goal per 10 attempts. The circumstances surrounding that one extra attempt, circumstances we would all acknowledge are well out of the kicker’s control because he’s not a football player and whatnot, generally dictate the practical reality of that kicker’s existence. If it’s at the end of a close/tied game, that one extra make is everything. If you’re Oregon settling for once, it probably means very little.
The other way of considering this chart is to take it as a lesson: The position that most fans believe should execute without fail is subject to extreme variability and never perfection. Justin Yoon’s got a great chance to be a very good kicker, but if you’re basing your concept of kicking based on any vintage of NCAA Football (RIP sweet friend), you’re bound to be disappointed. If you’ve ever tried to go out and kick a 20 yard field goal, you’ll be able to appreciate just how good Justin Yoon will really be.
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