SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Jonathan Doerer pays careful attention to the nuances of his stance, swing path and ball contact — and not just in football.
The Notre Dame kicker also frequents the driving range, a habit that increased when he was home in North Carolina over the spring and summer. His father tagged along on his kicking and golf outings and saw plenty of both swings.
“He really approaches golf the same way,” Brian Doerer said. “He’ll try to hit the same shot, just one shot. He’ll practice on hitting the pin at 90 yards, and practice just on that very methodically.”
That mindful approach has been integral to Doerer’s kicking success and helped vault him to an eye-catching season in 2019, quelling outside concerns about Doerer’s ability to take over the starting spot following Justin Yoon’s graduation. An increased focus on fundamentals translated to a 17-for-20 season, including a perfect game against Southern Cal with made field goals of 43, 45 and 52 yards that propelled the Fighting Irish to a 30-27 rivalry win.
“Going into my junior year, I realized I had to make a lot of technical advancements in my game if I wanted to play at the level that I wanted to and needed to,” Doerer said.
Throughout the season, Doerer sent videos of his kicks to his Charlotte-based kicking coach, Dan Orner, about three times a week.
“It wasn’t him sending me a video and just saying, ‘Hey, what do you think?’” Orner said. “He sent me videos and said: ‘All right, this is what I’m thinking in this kick. Do you agree with this?’ It was a complete maturity level versus just asking for advice.”
In six years, Orner has watched the 6-foot-3 kicker grow from a sophomore at South Mecklenburg High School into a senior at Notre Dame. Doerer knows he has matured in that time, especially since inheriting the starting role after the 2018 season.
“I really started to just take everything a lot more seriously and understand what I needed to do,” Doerer said.
He attributes some of his success to increased confidence and a change in mentality — a sentiment echoed by his kicking coach.
“It’s just changing your mindset to be more process-oriented versus result-oriented,” Orner said. “Even though you’re going to kick 50 balls, you’re going 1 for 1 on 50 balls throughout the entire workout.”
Through four games this season, Doerer is 15 for 15 on extra points and 5 for 7 on field goals, with wide-left attempts of 38 yards against South Florida and 45 yards against Florida State.
Doerer said he doesn’t dwell on the misses.
“The most important kick is the next kick,” he said. “The most important play in football is the next play.”
The same can be said for golf, and Brian Doerer noted that his son rarely shows frustration in either sport.
“You hit a bad shot in golf, and you have to go hit another one,” he said. “I’m sure there’s carryover there.”
Subtract the club, and there’s also carryover in the swing itself.
“The repetitive motion is something that’s very similar,” Orner said. “The way you address the ball is very similar, and the way you use your body and the control you have to have over your body.”
Clearly, comparisons between kicking and golf are plentiful. Both also require deliberate calibration to account for wind and other weather conditions.
The Louisville game showed that. Doerer appeared to struggle while warming up in the wind, repeatedly missing midrange attempts, before drilling his 30- and 32-yard field goals. Orner explained that what appeared to be a woeful warmup might just be part of the process.
“A lot of times you’ll see guys missing balls in warmups, and sometimes they’re trying to figure out the wind path,” Orner said. “Pregame, really for a lot of kickers, is used to find your pipeline and to find where you need to play your ball so that when the wind hits it, it’s used to your favor versus your enemy.”
Doerer’s improvements are catching national attention. He is one of 30 kickers on the watch list for the 2020 Lou Groza Award, which recognizes the top kicker in college football, and is angling toward a potential NFL future.
It seems Doerer will have another year to prepare. He said he will “most likely” play a fifth season following the NCAA’s decision to grant athletes an extra year of eligibility in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the meantime, Doerer and the Irish (4-0, 3-0, Atlantic Coast Conference) look to continue their undefeated campaign in Saturday’s road game against Pittsburgh.
As Doerer said, “It’s all about the next kick.”
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