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Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 99 Blake Grupe, kicker, Arkansas State transfer

Arkansas State v Memphis

MEMPHIS, TN - SEPTEMBER 05: Blake Grupe #0 of the Arkansas State Red Wolves warms up before the game against the Memphis Tigers at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium on September 5, 2020 in Memphis, Tennessee. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

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Listed measurements: 5-foot-7 ⅜, 150 pounds.2022-23 year, eligibility: Sixth-year graduate transfer with one season of eligibility remaining after redshirting in 2017 and then being granted another year thanks to the universal pandemic eligibility waiver.Depth Chart: Either Grupe or sophomore Josh Bryan will handle Notre Dame’s placekicking duties, but neither separated himself during spring practices. Grupe has an experience advantage, to say the least, so he should be presumed the starter.Recruiting: All the Irish really needed to do was contact Grupe. Once he was in the transfer portal, that connection alone was enough to sway him.

“They didn’t have to take a whole lot of pushing,” he said upon arrival in January. “I was in the portal, Notre Dame reached out, and it was over. How do you not want to be a part of this? Be a part of a winning tradition, be a part of the school’s tradition, everything that makes Notre Dame football the way it is.

“There were other schools that reached out, but when Notre Dame reached out, it was kind of over with.”

Of the incoming transfers this spring, Grupe was one of the lesser heralded, as one might expect for a sixth-year kicker out of Arkansas State, but the Irish still treated Grupe like a star recruit on February’s version of National Signing Day, giving him the same video treatment they gave each and every signed recruit in December.

Grupe benefits from the Irish Players Club, as do the rest of his teammates, but wasting this section on that with each entry would be not only repetitive but also risk falling down a deep rabbit hole discussing what NFTs are and what they are not and wondering how sustainable the IPC will be. Instead, as it pertains to Grupe, let’s brainstorm ways his slight stature could be monetized.

It is too bad Smart Cars are no longer sold in the United States, per the Mercedes-Benz website, as Grupe could have been the only college football player able to fit in one and thus sincerely advocate for the brand.

Grupe’s success at Arkansas State was largely in terms of short-range accuracy. His longest field goal in his four seasons of kicking was from 50 yards, but he still went 64-for-86 over his career (74.4 percent). For context, Jonathan Doerer finished his collegiate career 49-of-64 (76.6 percent).

There were ups and downs for Grupe, which he attributed to preparation more than anything else. As a walk-on, his first season was spent learning. Then entering the 2020 season, the pandemic robbed Grupe of spring practice work.

“I’ve had up years and I’ve had years that I’m not as happy with,” he said in January. “My freshman year, as a walk-on, I had a lot of learning to do, and I did and I kind of bounced back. Going into the COVID year, it was a weird year. We really didn’t have spring ball. We missed out on a lot of the preparation that leads to having success. Those all played factors, but at the end of the day, I have to go out and get it done.”

2018: 14-of-21 field goals, 35-of-38 PATs.2019: 19-of-22 field goals, 53-of-53 PATs.2020: 11-of-18 field goals, 43-of-45 PATs.2021: 20-of-25 field goals, 31-of-32 PATs. Hit a game-winning, 42-yard field goal with only 1:17 remaining to beat Louisiana-Monroe in November.

Though Grupe went only 1-of-2 in the Blue-Gold Game, making from 36 yards and missing from 41, the greatest criticism of him is the lack of a booming leg. If Notre Dame has to rely on him to make a field goal from longer than 50 yards, the likelihood of success feels slim. That is, unless you believe Irish special teams coordinator Brian Mason.

“I know there is a real flack on my guy Grupe because he is the size of our leprechaun,” Mason said this spring. “But he is kicking from 55 (yards) in pre-practice, and I trust him to be able to make it from 55. He made it easy earlier at the beginning of practice, so I think he has more than good enough of a leg.”

The reality is, 55 yards would be more than enough. Doerer’s career-long was 52 yards, and he made only four field goals of 50 yards or more throughout his three years as Notre Dame’s field-goal kicker. If the Irish need that long of a field goal this season, it will most likely be only once.

Otherwise, dialed-in Grupe’s accuracy should allow Bryan a year of focusing on kickoff duties. If Grupe circa 2020 shows up, then Mason will have Bryan to turn to.

It will be that simple. Grupe’s accuracy will either keep him in the job for 13 games or it will not. That may sound obvious, but Doerer could have gone into a poor spell and retained the job given his track record in South Bend. Grupe does not have that earned cushion.

RELATED READING: Transfer kicker Blake Grupe is all about history — taking it and making it

The NFL will require a bigger leg than Grupe has, so 2022 should be it in every football regard for the Missouri native.

From Blake Grupe to Braden Lenzy, the offseason countdown begins anew

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