BLOOMINGTON -- Indiana's Mitch Ewald is not the Big Ten's most feared football hitter. Let's get that straight. But then, given that he's a 5-10, 174-pound kicker, you wouldn't expect that.
And yet, here was Hoosier coach Kevin Wilson, in good spring spirits once again because he is finally -- finally -- coaching a Cream 'n Crimson team with bright bowl prospects, boasting of Ewald's defensive prowess.
“He's tackling really well. He's one of the premier tacklers …”
Hold that thought.
Ewald is poised to do what no IU kicker has ever done. If he stays healthy and the Hoosiers score at the expected pace, he will set school records no one might break.
We'll get to that.
This senior-to-be is not a guy who kicks and eats quiche while teammates get physical. When kickoff necessity strikes, he sacrifices his body for the common good (witness his six tackles last season, four solo). In practice Ewald joins fundamental sessions like catching passes because he's a specialist with a versatility-is-cool mindset.
“He's more of a ballplayer than just a kicker,” Wilson says.
This is why Wilson says Ewald, “might be one of my two favorite kickers of all time.”
The other was former Miami of Ohio standout Chad Seitz, who played for Wilson in the early 1990s. Wilson remembers Seitz's college debut, when Miami tied West Virginia 31-31 after Seitz missed an extra point and a field goal. Wilson said he made Seitz come to offensive meetings the next week “to watch how hard the offensive linemen were working. Kickers don't do anything.”
Wilson aimed to make a short-term point. Seitz turned it into a college career lesson.
“He came to every offensive line meeting for four years,” Wilson said. “He set every kicking record at Miami. He was a neat kid.”
Ewald has left a similar impression. He's the most accurate kicker in school history, making 80 percent of his attempts. He made eight straight field goals in 2010 and seven in 2011. His 44 career field goals are four away from Scott Bonnell's school record. Ewald is 12 away from Bonnell's school record of 117 extra points.
With 237 career points, he's within range of Bonnell's school record of 261 for a kicker.
Ewald has no shot of breaking Anthony Thompson's overall team scoring record of 412 points, but he should pass Antwaan Randle El (270) for second place.
What does all this mean to Ewald?
“It's an honor. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't looking forward to it. At the same time, it's not on my mind that much. If it happens, it happens. If it's meant to happen, it will. I believe it will, but I never came here thinking about records. I came here thinking about getting my degree, having a great time socially and hoping to have an awesome career.”
Ewald has improved his kickoffs each season. Last year he was second in the Big Ten with 31 touchbacks, averaging 61.5 yards a kick.
Wilson wants more.
“We need him to be much more productive and to be a great kickoff guy. We're going to really challenge him this year, not just to kick out of the end zone, but some placement kicks. Put it in the corners, try to pin some teams deep so our team can start with better field position.
“If he does it right, I think he'll be an All-Big Ten kicker. Potentially he'll have a chance to be in the NFL. Seldom does a college kid get that chance. Mitch has it.”
Ewald's accuracy comes with extensive work with former Northern Illinois kicker Chris Nendick and West Coast kicking guru Chris Sailer. Both have helped hone Edwald's technique so that, just like a refined golf swing, it doesn't break under pressure.
“They help with my routine and fundamentals,” Ewald says. “Whenever I have a problem, I can go back to them.”
Plenty of guys can kick balls a long way, but few can consistently get them between the uprights.
“Being consistently accurate involves a couple of things,” Ewald says. “A lot of it is confidence. You have to get past a bad kick, get past a miss. A lot of times when kickers starting missing, they get into a funk and they can't get out of it.
“The biggest thing is , if you're kicking at this level, that means something. It means you're pretty good. So if you miss, move on and get to the next kick. Coach Wilson does an awesome job with me. He tells me to relax, you're good, do what you do. Focus on your job and perform.”
Focus enabled Ewald to kick the 31-yard field goal to beat Purdue as a freshman. It's why, with the game on the line, the Hoosiers have a big end-of-game edge. Ewald delivers because, in so many ways, he doesn't sweat the small stuff.
“Over the course of the last three years, I've become more comfortable in game situations,” he says. “Now I want to kick as many times as I can, make as many field goals and kickoffs as I can. Just enjoy my last season.
Ewald's enjoyment continues later today with the annual spring football game. The event features a youth football clinic (instructors include ex-Hoosiers now in the NFL Tandon Doss, Courtney Roby, Andrew McDonald and James Brewer, plus former NFL receiver and ex-Elmhurst standout James Hardy), a tour of renovated Memorial Stadium and even zipline rides.
“I've had an awesome time here,” Ewald says. “I've had a lot of fun. I've enjoyed some success. I don't want to say there's no stress in kicking , but what do you have to lose? Try to perform the best you can and have fun.”