Saturday will be the first time Jeff Budzien starts as a place kicker since high school. Budzien plans on having the same mindset as he did then.
“It’s just having fun, just like I did in high school,” said Budzien. “I’m not nervous at all for B.C.; it’s going to be the most fun day in my life.”
Both Budzien and junior Steve Flaherty each battled for roles with Northwestern’s special teams unit. Last week, Pat Fitzgerald sat down with each kicker individually and explained how duties would be handled. In the end, it worked out for both of them.
Budzien was awarded place kicking duties while Flaherty was named the Wildcats’ kickoff kicker. Fitzgerald was pleased with how the competition turned out.
"Frankly, neither one of them lost the job, they both did a really good job,” Fitzgerald said to the media during his Monday press conference. “I couldn't give Steve a specific reason why he's not doing place kicks and I couldn't give Jeff a reason (why he's not taking kickoffs). It was more consistency over time.”
Budzien was also happy with how the competition turned out—not only for himself, but for Flaherty and the rest of the team.
“We’re both getting on the field and both getting roles,” said Budzien. “We’re able to specialize. I think it’s the best for the team which is obviously what was going to happen.”
Through months of work in practice, both kickers settled in to their own respective roles. Budzien and Flaherty now find themselves in a key position to help the team consistently this season.
“I know Steve earned that kickoff job and I earned the field goal job,” said Budzien. “It’s kind of nice to focus on field goals and I’m just excited to see Saturday and be a part of that.”
During each practice, Budzien and Flaherty split time as place kicker with the field goal unit. With the coaches watching from behind, the two kickers auditioned for the starting job.
As a freshman, Budzien would count his field goal percentage in his head. That has not been the case this season. Even with the added pressure of fighting for a job, Budzien was focused on one thing.
“I just go in and kick and if I do the best I can,” said Budzien. “I won’t be beat if I kick my best ball every time. I kind of focused on what I can control rather than counting numbers or doing addition in my head.”
Budzien anticipates having a similar mindset when he is needed on Saturday. He has no nerves or tension for his first start, just excitement.
“I’m just going to go have fun,” he said. “I’m not nervous at all and it will be the most fun day of my life. I’m not anxious or worried, I trust myself, I know what I’m capable of, and I know what I’m going to do.”