CHICAGO -- The percentage of field goals Jeff Budzien hopes to make next season is inscribed on his bedroom door. He won’t reveal the exact number, but after watching him connect on 95 percent of his kicks amidst the best season of his college career to date, perfection is not an unreasonable goal.
After all, were it not for the few inches of airspace that pushed his 53-yard strike in the final minute of a one-point loss to Nebraska just right of the goalpost, Budzien might have already banked an unblemished FG record.
Microscopically close though he was, Budzien is being reasonable about his goals this season. Perfection would be ideal, but simply reaching his desired percentage is the main objective.
“I’m trying to be realistic with my goals,” Budzien says.
Nevermind his connotation of the word, what’s “realistic” for Budzien is to follow-up or even exceed last season’s near-perfect effort. With kickers, it’s never easy to predict year-to-year performance. Field goal accuracy is one of the more volatile components of the game, affected by a number of factors – weather, pressure, the snap, the hold – outside of a kicker’s direct control. Budzien could take the same approach, with the same fluid technique, the same pinpoint accuracy, yet yield less flattering results. Natural regression is an unfailing reality.
That would be the most “realistic” assessment of why Budzien may fail to repeat last season’s excellence. But Budzien himself? He’s worked this offseason to try and ensure the one field goal he did miss last season falls well within his range.
“I’ve been hitting the weight room hard, trying to increase my leg strength and my range,” he said. “It was a pretty big miss and I take full responsibility for it. That was on me, I let the team down.”
It's difficult to divine why Budzien was left off the list of finalists for the Lou Groza Award (presented annually to the nation’s best field goal kicker) last season; the Nebraska miss is the only real hiccup on an otherwise sterling one-year CV. Whatever the reasons, the committee will have more than just Budzien’s kicking statistics to consider this season.
It will also have @BudzienforGroza, a Twitter account created by Northwestern’s athletic department to drum up support for Budzien’s Groza candidacy. Budzien himself is not on Twitter, but he’s well aware of the account’s existence, and several friends have already asked him about it.
“It’s really taken off,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of people ask me about it.”
The Twitter account may seem like a humorous attention grab in July, but if Budzien can eliminate the only glaring shortcoming in his kicking repertoire – range – Budzien4Groza might take on greater meaning later this fall. Unlike other players vying for the award, Budzien has the benefit of easy access to #Budzienfacts -- and that's before you get into the most important part of his Twitter-abetted campaign: terrific kicking accuracy.
Whether he admits it or not, Budzien’s Groza Award candidacy, distinguished by a handy social media campaign, is downright “realistic.”