Considering where Justin Yoon started his college career, his 88.2 percent field goal success rate — which is fifth among FBS players — is a surprise. But then you talk to the freshman from Nashville and it makes more sense.
After missing two field goals and two PATs in the season’s first month, Yoon hasn’t missed a field goal or PAT since the beginning of October. It’s a run of 25 consecutive made kicks that propelled him to became a reliable part of Notre Dame’s playoff push, which ultimately fell short and landed the Irish in the Fiesta Bowl.
Once Yoon got over his first-month jitters, he began to show why Rivals.com ranked him as the nation’s No. 1 placekicking recruit in the high school class of 2015.
“I’d say maintaining composure,” Yoon said of what was different from September through the rest of the season. “I could say I wasn’t nervous, but hey, that’s part of the game.
“It’s the thrill, though — it’s an interesting nervous. You’re thrilled about it, it’s exciting. So I had to get a little bit over that aspect, and once I did I felt pretty confident about what I was capable of doing.”
The turning point for Yoon, at least from a box score standpoint, was his 46-yard field goal in the driving South Carolina rain Oct. 3 at Clemson. He connected from a season-long 52 yards against Navy and became automatic from short distance, which was important for an Irish offense that frequently stalled in the red zone.
Eleven of Yoon’s 15 made field goals were from inside the 37-yard line. While DeShone Kizer & Co. would’ve preferred to get in the end zone on those possessions, Yoon’s reliability made sure Notre Dame always came away with points so long as it didn’t turn the ball over deep in opponent territory.
“Once he was able to get into what the routine is in college and what we do on a week to week basis, … he was off and running.” coach Brian Kelly said. “And he adapted to whatever that was. I think it was just that transition to what our routine was, and once he adapted, he’s a kid that is going to fit in wherever. And that’s simply all that he needed to do.
“I think the other thing that he does quite well is he self-corrects. If there’s an issue with him pushing a ball or hooking something, he’s a guy that can self-correct on his own, immediately assess it and not let it affect him. He’s really easy to work with.”
That ability to self-correct is important given Yoon and Notre Dame’s kicking battery — save for Kizer, who largely had eschew holding duties to work with the first-team offense — largely had to practice on its own. But Yoon said that wasn’t too different from his high school days at Milton Academy in Massachusetts.
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Speaking to Yoon’s composure, too, is that he’s unfazed by the larger stage of playing college ball at Notre Dame. He went from kicking in front of a handful of fans to upwards of 80,000, plenty of whom are still scarred from Kyle Brindza’s second-half struggles in 2014 (struggles which, somewhat unfairly, tarnished his Irish legacy — Notre Dame doesn’t go undefeated in the 2012 regular season without Brindza’s clutch kicks).
Yoon didn’t let the early-season misses turn into a long-term problem, and in the process, built a strong foundation on which to build over his next three years as Notre Dame’s kicker.
“For me, it’s not about what I’m missing, it’s about what I do for the next one,” Yoon said. “Every ball I kick is a different ball and not every one’s the same. If every one’s the same I’d make all of them, right? It’s not that way. Every ball’s a different ball and I gotta focus on that certain ball. If I miss it, hey, that’s part of the game, go for the next one.”