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Lying pays off for Indiana's Ewald

Indiana kicker Mitch Ewald (16) during the second half in Bloomington earlier thi smonth. (File photo by The Associated Press)
Indiana kicker Mitch Ewald (16) during the second half in Bloomington earlier thi smonth. (File photo by The Associated Press)

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For more on Indiana athletics, follow Pete DiPrimio via Twitter at pdiprimio.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press

Junior kicker rates with Big Ten's best

Tuesday, October 30, 2012 12:01 am
BLOOMINGTON — Sometimes, if you're a field goal kicker, you have to lie to yourself.No, that doesn't mean looking in the mirror and seeing Ray Lewis staring back at you.

Well, maybe it does (we'll explain that in a moment), but that misses the point, which is if you're Indiana's Mitch Ewald, distance, situation and pressure don't matter.

“Every kick is the same,” he says. “There's no difference whether it's an extra point or a 55 yarder. It's the same kick.”

It's not, of course, but given Ewald is the nation's sixth-most accurate field goal kicker (81.6 percent for his career), which makes him the most accurate in school history, why spoil what's working.

“You have to have that mind set that every kick is the same kick, a straight kick, a high kick, no matter the length or the conditions or the situation,” he says.

Here's what lying can do for you. Ewald has made 11-of-14 field goals this season, which at 78.6 percent is down slightly from his career average. He's 31-for-31 on extra points, and has made 94 straight in his career, the sixth longest streak ever in the Big Ten and second in school history to Pete Stoyanovich's 107 straight.

Ewald is second in scoring among Big Ten kickers with 64 points, trailing only Nebraska's Brett Maher, who has 74. He's also second in the conference with 24 touch backs while averaging 61.6 yards a kickoff. He's 2-for-3 on on-side kicks this season.

All this makes offensive coordinator Seth Littrell's job much easier.

“He's been very dependable, which is great,” Littrell says. “I haven't always had that. I've been at some places where you go for it on all four downs, so it's great to have a guy like that in your corner. Our team has a lot of faith in him that he'll make the kicks.”

Making them starts with fundamentals and meteorology.

“If it's perfect conditions, you aim between the uprights,” Ewald says. “If there's a wind, you see where it's blowing.

“Being flexible is a key. Keep your eyes on the ball and don't pull your eyes up too soon. Keep your hips aligned with your target. Trying to have you leg locked at the point of contact with the ball.”

But the biggest key, he says, is mindset. History is full of kickers who buckled under pressure. Ewald's most pressure packed moment came as a freshman in 2010, when his 26-yard field goal sent the game against Purdue into overtime, and then his 31 yarder won it.

“There are a lot of things you're thinking about when you go out there,” he says. “Am I going to get a good snap? Will I get a good hold? Is the rush going to be coming fast or are they going to be slow off the ball? What's the wind doing? The conditions — is it cold or warm?

“The best (kickers) try to have a blank mindset. Don't think too much, just go out there and it's muscle memory. You've done it a million times.”

Easy to say, not always to do when you've spent most of the game on the sidelines. How do you stay focused?

“It's easier than it looks,” Ewald says. “Adrenalin is going; blood is flowing; you're into the game and paying attention to what's going on with the offense and defense; if there's a turnover.

“You've got to be ready at all times. As soon as the offense crosses midfield, I'm getting prepared for a field goal. Other than that, I'm always on the bike, staying warm, keeping my legs loose. Sometimes I'm jogging around the field. I hardly ever sit down. As soon as we get close to field goal range, I get off the bike, get away from everybody and just start getting loose.”

Ewald's career-long field goal is 49 yards, although he says, “I feel very comfortable hitting them in the low 50s.”

“If the wind is at my back, we've tried it at 58 yards in practice, but the games are a little bit different.”

As far as the Ray Lewis reference, the 5-10, 173-pound Ewald has five tackles this season, all from kickoffs. His aggressiveness, he says, comes from having played defensive back in high school.

“Tackling is something I enjoy,” he says. “I don't know if Coach (Kevin) Wilson likes to hear that.

“When I'm out there, if if comes down to me making a tackle, I like sticking my nose in there. I rely on instincts. If I have to make that tackle, I'll do it.”

Littrell, for one, is fine with that — too a point.

“He's a very competitive due. His teammates respect him. He's very competitive in all the drills. You don't think of him as you'd normally think of a kicker. He's a very hard worker. He works like everybody else. That's why he's as consistent as he is.

“When it comes to him making tackles, I'll leave that to the defensive coordinator and special teams coach. I'm just glad someone is getting tackled.”

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For more on Indiana athletics, follow Pete DiPrimio via Twitter at pdiprimio.


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