Posted by: marcmwm | June 19, 2009

Zen and the paradox of kicking

Junior Daniel Murray finished 6 of 9 in field goals last season, including this 31-yard game-winner against No. 3 Penn State. (Gazette file)

Junior Daniel Murray finished 6 of 9 in field goals last season, including this 31-yard game-winner against No. 3 Penn State. (Gazette file)

Nate Kaeding has been in their shoes. Literally.
He’s gone through the trials and tribulations of shaky confidence. He knows the frustration of inconsistency. He got booed.

Yeah, he got booed. Kinnick Stadium, Ohio State 2ooo. He missed a 33-yarder and the boo birds came out.

San Diego Chargers kicker Nate Kaeding celebrates after hitting a 49-yard field goal that gave the Chargers the lead in the fourth quarter against the Indianapolis Colts in a NFL football game in Indianapolis Sunday, Dec. 18, 2005. The Chargers defeated the Colts, 26-17. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

San Diego Chargers kicker Nate Kaeding celebrates after hitting a 49-yard field goal that gave the Chargers the lead in the fourth quarter against the Indianapolis Colts in a NFL football game in Indianapolis Sunday, Dec. 18, 2005. The Chargers defeated the Colts, 26-17. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

“I went from kicking at (Iowa City) West High in front of 800 people and then you step out in front of 80,000 people on national TV, trust me, that can do some different things to you,” Kaeding said. “You go on that rollercoaster. There are some people who can’t handle it and they fall to the wayside. We’re going to have to see with these guys.”

“These guys” are Daniel Murray and Trent Mossbrucker, the Hawkeyes’ kickers going into the 2009 season. They experienced the full rollercoaster last season. Of course, Murray kicked the 31-yard field goal that beat No. 3 Penn State at Kinnick in November. That glory came after he lost the job to Mossbrucker after a September sprained ankle.

Iowa coaches picked Murray over Mossbrucker to kick the Penn State field goal. Before that, Mossbrucker was a respectable 13 of 15. After, he missed a pair of extra points against Purdue and lost those duties. He re-gained them against Minnesota, but Murray handled all the kicking in the Outback Bowl.

Murray and Mossbrucker are in the formative stages of their careers and a kicker’s career can be brutal.

“You draw from your tough times as a kicker,” Kaeding said. “It’s a humbling thing. I missed a big playoff kick in San Diego my rookie year. You just kind of look at yourself and it’s a “where do I go from here” sort of deal.

“Everyone hates you until the next season, especially with it being a playoff sort of kick. You’ve got to accept it for what it is. If you can’t accept the fact that you’re going to miss it and be that guy everyone hates for awhile, then you can’t play the game at my position.”

Murray and Mossbrucker can take advantage of Kaeding’s experience. They trade texts and e-mails. Kaeding, an all-American and Lou Groza winner while at Iowa, has kicked with them during this offseason. He’s even offered up a few books, including “Zen in the Art of Archery.”

“It’s all about being process-oriented rather than result-oriented,” Kaeding said. “This (book) is a classic. . . . It’s all about, you try on purpose but not on purpose. It’s this crazy Zen-like speak, but if you really grab onto it, it makes a lot of sense. That’s part of the position. You can get yourself into a lot of problems if you want it too much. I kind of see that in Trent a little bit.”

Kaeding watched the Penn State game at a friend’s house. He saw Mossbrucker’s reaction to being passed over for the kick. He was visibly emotional and let it flow.

“I know he’s kind of doubted himself with the way he ended the year last season,” Kaeding said. “It was one of those learning process things. Yes, you’re going to get down on yourself, but you also have to be able to build yourself back up as well.”

Mossbrucker, a sophomore, is in the Iowa record books. His 70 points last season (13 of 15 FGs and 31 of 33 PATs) were an Iowa freshman scoring record, beating Kaeding’s true freshman mark of 62 and Jeff Skillett’s freshman record of 64.

“He wants it so bad, that you can almost throw yourself off,” Kaeding said. “You have to go back to not thinking about being good but thinking about what’s going to make you good and how you’re going to go about enacting that, being able to push all the circumstances and results out of your mind and just focusing on the process and what’s inside and how to go about dealing with that. Those are the things you learn a long the way. You learn how to apply them.”

The difference is Kaeding is 27 and going into his sixth season in the NFL, including a Pro Bowl selection in 2006. Mossbrucker is a 20-year-old sophomore who’s fighting for a job.

“I learn to this day and I’ve been seriously kicking four or five times a week since my junior year in high school,” said Kaeding, who made 27 of 32 field goals for the Chargers last season. “You learn so much about such a simple thing — kicking — the nuance of it, the emotional side of it and the mental side of it.

“That’s kind of something I remind those guys. You’re going to learn, you’re going to grow. It’s how you accept those challenges. I’ve learned more from the times I’ve made mistakes and have been humbled in this game than I have from the times I’ve done well. It’s going to be a true indicator as to how Trent responds and whether he takes it and learns from it and makes himself better.”

Murray, a junior, goes into 2009 riding a wave of confidence. He finished 6 of 9 last season, including 4 of 6 from attempts of 30 to 49 yards. Murray’s long field goal of the season was 45 and he handled kick-off duties.

And yeah, he’s got that Penn state kick.

“Great kick by Danny. Great pressure kick. It was outstanding,” said Kaeding, who gave Murray the nod when asked if it topped his kick to beat Texas Tech in the 2001 Alamo Bowl. “His was bigger. You’re at home, national TV and you’ve got the No. 3 team. That was an unbelievable play and the way the season was going, it was kind of a turning point for them. It was big.”

Murray’s next step is consistency, Kaeding said.

“That’s (Penn State kick) something that can kind of catapult his career, move forward with from now,” Kaeding said. “I think his his biggest thing — and I’ve kicked with him two or three times this offeseason — he’s incredibly talented, but the biggest thing now is piecing together two or three or four games where he’s consistently good and he’s rattlinig off eight, nine, 10 field goals in a row.

“He definitely has the talent to do it. He’s on the doorstep on establishing himself as a premier kicker. He’s got tons of leg and he’s definitely good enough to do it. It’s just managing the length of a four-month season and doing it week in and week out.”

Kaeding knows what’s possible. He rode the spectrum from end to end at Iowa. Two weeks after getting booed in his hometown stadium, Kaeding went into Penn State. There, he kicked four field goals (48, 49, 46 and 26), including the game-winner in overtime.

Kaeding went on to win the Groza (awarded to the nation’s top kicker) after starting the 2002 season with 19 straight field goals. He finished 21 of 24.

It can change, just like that.

“You’re going to go one of two directions,” Kaeding said. “You’re going to accept it and look objectively at what you’ve done and make yourself better and improve. Or you’re going to wallow in your sorrow and worry about it.

“That’s the tough thing about a kicker. You’re going to try to be perfect, but, in reality, you’re not going to be. How do you handle that paradox is kind of the trick. You learn that through time. You take your bumps and bruises and you move on.”

Sophomore Trent Mossbrucker set records as a true freshman kicker for the Hawkeyes last season. He finished 13 of 15. (Gazette file)

Sophomore Trent Mossbrucker set records as a true freshman kicker for the Hawkeyes last season. He finished 13 of 15. (Gazette file)

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Responses

  1. Wouldn’t it make sense for Moss to reshirt this year?

  2. Great article, thanks. Those kids are lucky they can tall or text someone like that for advice.

  3. Thai — I was going to write just that later today.

    Yes, I don’t see how there’s anyway around that. Comeback as a soph in ’10, with Murray as a senior, and then assume the duties in ’11 with two full years of being “the guy.”

    That said, you’re basically talking about two years off. The kid is a competitor and I don’t think that’d sit well with him. He’ll fight it out and we’ll see what happens.

  4. E — Thanks! When Nate retires, I imagine he’ll begin his political career as mayor of Iowa City.

  5. marc,
    Perfect timing! I was going to write and ask if you would consider a blog about the upcoming season’s position battle at kicker, and what perceptions and perspectives you might be able to share with us from having covered the past year or two with these two guys. This approach far exceeds what I was thinking about! Thank you.

  6. Kent — You bet.

    I think Trent is a firebrand and will eventually find the calm and focus that Kaeding has seemed to master.

    I’m thinking Obi Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker. (Man, I’m a dork!)

  7. I’m still holding out for the punter blog. Iowa’s most formidable weapon only has 2 more years of eligibility! He’ll probably leave after this year since he’s sure to be a day 1 draft pick after he wins the Heisman.

  8. […] offered advice and wisdom to Iowa’s kickers Daniel Murray and Trent Mossbrucker (link here). Murray and Mossbrucker had some peaks and valleys last year. Murray probably has the edge going […]

  9. MF — I believe he’s going to owe you 10 percent.


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