IOWA CITY, Ia. – No one knows how to get into the head of a kicker like a kicker.
“It’s a tricky deal,” said Nate Kaeding, the former Iowa all-American and recently retired NFL all-pro kicker. “No one can understand the ups and downs of it more than someone who has been through it. I’ve seen it all.”
When Mike Meyer came to Iowa as a freshman kicker, Kaeding took him under his wing and has helped him with the technical and mental aspects of kicking.
“I’ve definitely learned more in my time being with him than anyone else,” Meyer said.
The senior from Dubuque needs 21 field goals, four more than last season, to match Kaeding’s school-record 67. Kaeding won the Lou Groza Award in 2002. Meyer was one of 20 semifinalists for that award the past two seasons and is on the preseason watch list in 2013.
“I’m expecting big things from him,” said Kaeding, who spent the majority of his nine-season NFL career with the San Diego Chargers. “I know he’s looking forward to a big senior year and the team needs to have him, because you’ve got to score those points.”
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz acknowledges that kickers are a different breed. He compares the psychology of being a kicker to a relief pitcher in baseball.
“Those guys are over there somewhere and all of a sudden they’ve got to come in the game and join the other guys,” Ferentz said. “So just the thought processes that they go through, all the situations they face, I think there’s a lot of parallels.”
And that’s why Kaeding, who grew up in Iowa City, has been so vital in Meyer’s development.
Kaeding would return to his hometown in the NFL offseason and lives here now. As an active player, he would spend part of his summer vacation working with the kickers on Iowa’s roster. That’s how he got to know Meyer.
“He helped me out quite a bit, too,” said Kaeding, who retired as the second-most accurate field-goal kicker in NFL history at 86.2 percent. “It got to the point in my career where I needed a little pick-me-up. Just going out there and kicking is a pretty lonesome deal. I would get together with Mike and all the other kickers and punters and snappers, and we’d work together. We’d go kick at different fields. I mentor them but they also helped me because they kept it fresh. You learn a lot from teaching, too. I think I got just as much out of it as they did.”
Meyer’s leg strength has grown each season through strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle’s offseason program.
“I can definitely tell that the strength program here has made an impact on my kicking,” said Meyer, who has made a pair of 50-yarders in his career. “The strength, the conditioning and the stretching we do all plays a big part in how I perform.”
It’s these numbers — 45 field goals in 58 attempts and 81 consecutive point-after-touchdown kicks — that have a touch of Kaeding.
“If you hit the ball well, it’s going to go 50 to 55 yards,” Meyer said. “So you don’t have to necessarily concentrate so much on kicking it hard as you do kicking it solid and consistent every time.”
The intersection of technique and mind is where a kicker’s season is ultimately defined.
“The technique is the biggest part,” Meyer said. “But doing it over and over again takes a lot of mental work, like getting in a good rhythm.”
More times than not, success with the leg becomes mind over matter.
“Later in your college career, and as I got in my NFL career, probably 80 percent of it is mental,” Kaeding said. “It’s how you handle the highs and lows and the emotions, not only through the course of a season but throughout the course of a game or one kick to the next. You might hit one bad and miss it. How do you come back and make the next one? That mental approach is something we spend a lot of time talking about.”
Meyer continues to quiz Kaeding about their craft.
“You want to learn, and that’s something that coach Ferentz really preaches,” Kaeding said. “That’s one of the cornerstones of his program, constantly developing players. And part of that is teaching them how to learn, how to be a good student, how to go out there in a conscious way figuring out ways to get better. Mike has certainly taken that on, and it’s shown in the progression he’s made throughout his career.”
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football