Jeff Budzien profile

By Nader Ihmoud

Jeff Budzien is a junior at Northwestern University and the starting place kicker for the Wildcats football team. During the team’s Sept. 15 victory against the Boston College Golden Eagles, he matched Northwestern’s record for most field goals in a game with 5. Following that game, Budzien was named the Big Ten special team’s player of the week. The Chronicle chatted with Budzien about what makes a successful field goal unit and his journey to becoming a kicker.

The Chronicle: What does it take to be a kicker?

Jeff Budzien: I think it takes more than what people think. You need to be mentally tough. Mental is a big part of the game that other position players have, but kickers have to be wired a little bit differently and embrace the game situation at hand and take advantage of those opportunities. You also have to be flexible and have a quick leg, so there are a lot of physical components too.

How did you become a kicker?

I grew up playing soccer, and I’d kick a football [around] with my friends. Eventually, I was pretty good at it. They were playing organized football, and I was playing soccer. A couple of them recruited me to their team, and it was a blast. I grew up in a hometown [Hartland, Wis.] where football is a very big thing. Prep football at Arrowhead Union High School is a big deal, so I wanted to be a part of something like that. I knew kicking was my option to get on the field. Before I knew it, it led to some scholarship offers.

How many field goal reps do you take during practice?

I would take probably 20 reps before practice and another 10 either during live snap and hold or the post field goal session. I try and limit my reps to a maximum of 30. I choose quality over quantity.

Have you tested your leg to see what’s the farthest you can kick a field goal from?

Every couple weeks, if I’m having a good day, I’ll test it just to see what I’m feeling. If we’re in the indoor and I hit my “A-plus ball,” I can reach 58 [or] 59 [yards]. I think I have a stronger leg than people give me credit for, but accuracy is probably my No. 1 trait.

What kind of chemistry do you have to have on the field goal unit?

It’s maybe downplayed in the media, but the field goal unit has to be very cohesive and rhythmic. I’m fortunate that some of my best friends on the team are the snapper and holder. It’s fun to be celebrating with your best friends. I don’t think many other teams have holders and snappers that can get along as well as us three and [the rest of the unit] do.

How do you prepare leading up to your Saturday games?

I’ll lift heavy on Monday. [It’s] usually a leg-heavy day. I’ll ice bath at least once every day. Tuesday is just a kick day at practice. That’s usually a pretty heavy kicking day. I’ll watch quite a bit of film. Wednesday, I’ll lift upper body, [and] we’ll also kick at practice, and as the week goes on we kick on Thursday as well. That’s when quality becomes a lot more important than quantity. On Friday, I’ll go in and get a great stretch, contrast between a hot tub and cold tub to get new blood in my legs, and then at the hotel Friday night, we’ll stretch. At that point, it starts to get into business trip mode. Saturday morning, we’ll wake up and go for a walk and stretch to get our blood pumping.

How do you prepare yourself mentally before each kick?

I’ll start kicking the ball into the net when [our offense] is approaching midfield. Our snapper and holder have their own routine. Then I’ll get to steal our holder for a little bit, and he’ll just hold some live kicks into the field goal net on the sideline. By the time we get out there, I have a good gauge on the wind and the distance of the kick. Honestly, when I’m crossing the numbers to go to the field and kick, my mind is very clear.