Football: Kicker Charlie Kuhbander suffering from torn muscle, but steadily improving


Allie Goulding/Daily Senior Staffer

Charlie Kuhbander kicks a field goal. The sophomore kicker has battled an injury this season.

Ben Pope, Gameday Editor


With just two converted field goals through the first four games of the season, Northwestern’s difficulty converting promising drives into points has manifested especially glaringly in the special teams department.

But the lack of field goals is not solely due to secret analytics and coach Pat Fitzgerald’s affinity for fourth-down conversion attempts, as was once believed, but also a “relatively big injury” to sophomore kicker Charlie Kuhbander.

Kuhbander told The Daily this week that he’s enduring a torn muscle in his right kicking leg that left him in “a ton of pain” during the opening games of the season. Though his condition has improved somewhat — and he converted his one attempt, a 45-yard career long, last weekend against Michigan — he doesn’t expect to return to full health until the offseason.

“There are some motions that I couldn’t do for a while just with the torn muscle and all,” Kuhbander said. “(I’m) just battling back through it with lots and lots of rehab.”

The Ohio native impressed during his 2017 freshman campaign by converting 13 of 16 field goal attempts, though he was sheltered by Fitzgerald and attempted only two kicks of more than 40 yards (and missed both).

Yet Kuhbander is a meager 2 for 4 so far this autumn, and he hasn’t been shown a lot of faith, either: In the Duke and Akron losses, the Wildcats sent out the offense rather than the kicking unit on five of seven fourth-down situations within field goal range.

“When Charlie has good conditions, he’s still able to make 50-plus-yard field goals,” special teams coordinator Jeff Genyk said. “It’s all just situational, and also the weather is a factor at Ryan Field always. It’s really a situation that we look at from an analytics standpoint.”

To reduce stress on his torn muscle, kickoff duties were turned over to backup kicker Drew Luckenbaugh and Kuhbander’s practice reps were temporarily reduced. The coaching staff even considered using Luckenbaugh for field goals, Genyk said.

“In the beginning, I was trying to keep the same amount of reps throughout practice, and my body wasn’t reacting well to it, so we took the load off,” Kuhbander said. “Now I’m back to it and I’m making all my kicks in practice again. Hopefully it’ll carry over to games.”

It did carry over last Saturday. Fitzgerald had no realistic choice but to send out Kuhbander with NU backed into a 4th-and-26 situation, and the kicker responded by curling the ball just inside the right upright and just over the crossbar to snap his drought. Fitzgerald avoided admitting afterwards that the successful attempt would influence future decisions, saying they will depend on the “ebb and flow of the game” but that he has “great confidence in (Kuhbander) from 50 or more.”

Nonetheless, with Kuhbander’s health at its highest point of the season to date — albeit still at less than 100 percent — entering Saturday’s visit to Michigan State, the kicker himself at least is feeling better about his status.

“(The Michigan kick) was big for me, confidence-wise,” he said. “I know that every time I go out to the field, I have to at least believe I’m going to make it.

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