Budzien is more than ‘just the kicker’

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Budzien is more than ‘just the kicker’

Daily file photo by Meghan White

Daily file photo by Meghan White

Daily file photo by Meghan White

Rohan Nadkarni, Assistant Sports Editor

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He lurks where you can’t see him.

Redshirt junior kicker – and prankster – Jeff Budzien tells the story the best.

“We have a towel bin by the showers, or last week there was a travel bag where you put your gear in, and I hide in the bottom of it,” Budzien said. “We’ll get the equipment staff in on it to say, ‘Hey, go on and grab your bag,’ and (players will) reach in the big bag and I’ll grab their arm or jump out and scare them.”

The Wildcats’ humble kicker, who says he “has all day” to think of his practical jokes, also manages to work on his craft in between the hijinks. At practice, separated with all the other specialists from the team, Budzien earned a bigger role on Saturdays with his hard work.

In his first year on the active roster in 2010 after redshirting in 2009, the Hartland, Wis., native attempted only 1 extra point the entire year. Last season, Budzien became the team’s regular kicker but was called upon only 10 times all season, hitting 6 of his field goal attempts and all 50 of his point-after tries.

Many times when Northwestern entered field goal range, coach Pat Fitzgerald opted to go for it on fourth down rather than attempting a kick.

But this year, Budzien turned himself into one of the most consistent performers on the team. He already exceeded his field goal attempts from last year, putting up 12 so far on the season. Budzien nailed 11 of his 12 kicks, good for a 91.7-percent success rate. He also converted all 30 of his extra points.

Budzien’s only miss stands out to many. Called on in a tough spot against Nebraska, Budzien barely pushed right a 53-yard field goal that would have given NU a late lead.

“I can handle the pain of missing a kick pretty easily,” Budzien said. “But I feel bad for everyone else. I feel like I let the team down, let the fans down, and that’s what bothers me.”

Despite entering in such a pressure-packed situation, Budzien said the moment didn’t really affect him. He said: “Kickers are wired differently,” also making it a little easier for him to move on from the miss.

When Budzien isn’t kicking in front of 50,000 fans with a Big Ten football game on the line, he manages to enjoy his time in Evanston. The economics major takes in the occasional movie and a meal around town. He prefers Joy Yee’s to Edzo’s (“The Edzo’s hours are so weird,”) and spends time with a lot of his fellow special teamers.

In fact, the life of the starting kicker ends up being much different from the average football player. While students often ogled at Kain Colter eating at Foster-Walker Complex, or imagine the lifestyle of a popular college athlete, Budzien blends right in with most of the NU students.

When asked if he ever uses his status on the football team for his own benefit, Budzien even admits, “I am just the kicker.”

Although he may be “just the kicker,” Budzien remains an important piece of the puzzle for the Cats, giving them a special teams edge they lacked last season. Although NU has struggled in the past three weeks, posting a 1-2 record, Budzien’s confidence and performance remains unchanged.

Just be careful walking around campus. He’s out there.