Football: Settling into Wildcats’ starting kicker role, Kuhbander exudes confidence


Daily file photo by Lauren Duquette

Charlie Kuhbander kicks. The freshman kicker knocked in three field goals and four extra points in Maryland last week.

Cole Paxton, Copy Chief


In high school, Charlie Kuhbander gained notoriety for launching a 60-yard kick — blindfolded. But in college, he appears to have a more mundane goal: Make every kick he attempts.

“Every kick’s the same for me. I treat it as, ‘You need to make this one,’” Kuhbander said this week. “I never even consider missing it.”

That mentality was on display in last Saturday’s 37-21 win at Maryland, which saw the freshman kicker make all three of his field goal attempts and convert all four extra points in the best performance of his young career. The three field goals matched his season total entering the day, and his 40-yarder in the first quarter matched his previous, if modest, career long.

Kuhbander then hit arguably the most important kick of his career in the fourth quarter, a 32-yarder that gave Northwestern (3-3, 1-2 Big Ten) a two-possession lead and kept the Terrapins at bay in the game’s later stages.

“I’ve got great confidence in Charlie,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said after the win Saturday. “I don’t think he understands that he’s a freshman. He’s been really consistent since he’s gotten into our program … just his approach to getting prepared for games.”

Kuhbander’s college career began inauspiciously, however, when he badly missed a 21-yard field goal in the season opener against Nevada. He then attempted just two field goals over the next four games, only one of which was beyond 35 yards.

However, Kuhbander quickly put his early miss behind him. He has connected on each of his 20 extra point attempts this season and converted all six field goals since the 21-yard miss.

“He has the same demeanor every single day, day in and day out, just goes to work and puts his head down, gets the job done,” said senior punter Hunter Niswander, who serves as the Wildcats’ holder. “If he misses one, you know he’s going to make the next one. You just have that confidence in him.”

Kuhbander himself seems confident in his ability — in four questions at a news conference this week, he used some form of the word three times. And his ability is not in doubt: Aside from the flashy 60-yard bomb, he set an Ohio record in high school with 305 total points and was ranked the No. 3 kicking prospect in his class by Kohl’s Kicking.

Despite arriving in Evanston on a full scholarship — a rarity for a kicker entering college — no job was handed to him. He instead waded his way through a seven-way competition in training camp before finally emerging as the victor, aided in part by his calm consistency.

“I learned real early on (in high school) that if you had any sort of different mindset to any kick it was going to affect it a lot,” Kuhbander said. “You had to treat everything the same.”

Now halfway through his freshman season, Kuhbander is gaining a greater foothold in NU’s offensive scheme and could provide a major boost for a Cats team set to face the staunch defenses of Iowa and Michigan State. That prospect excites Fitzgerald, who, when asked about Kuhbander this week, invoked Jeff Budzien, a two-time All-Big Ten kicker at NU.

The kicker, for his part, remained modest with the media, crediting Niswander and redshirt freshman long snapper Tyler Gillikin for their help, and stressing the importance of treating game situations like practice.

But Kuhbander did offer one bit of praise about his recent stretch: “Now I’m just on a roll.”

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Twitter: @ckpaxton