Kicker Charlie Kuhbander didn't have to think about his decision for very long after receiving an offer from Northwestern last Monday. In fact, despite holding offers from Army and Iowa State, the Springboro (Ohio) product committed on the spot.
"I had been talking to coach [Mike] Hankwitz for a few months, but I received the offer from coach [Pat] Fitzgerald over the phone," Kuhbander told Inside NU.
Kuhbander announced his commitment on Twitter shortly after his conversation with Fitz. For Kuhbander, the decision was a no-brainer.
Charlie Kuhbander commits
Charlie Kuhbander commits
"It's got it all," he told Inside NU. "Great academics, a beautiful campus, I love being right next to the lake. It has a big football program that wins games, I love Chicago, and I was very impressed with the coaching staff."
With current kicker Jack Mitchell, who quit baseball to focus on kicking this offseason, set to graduate following the 2016 season, Kuhbander's commitment is timely. Northwestern hasn't gotten a commitment from a kicker since the 2009 class, which yielded future All-American Jeff Budzien (although current punter Hunter Niswander was recruited a kicker).
Kuhbander is currently rated a 2-star recruit by 247 Sports, but is also ranked the No. 5 kicker in the country. The prestigious Kohl's Kicking Camp ranks him as No. 4 in the country. Here's what the Kohl's Kicking website had to say about Kuhbander.
"He shows elite level leg strength and explosiveness. His FG repeatability off the ground has improved and he is in line to be one of the top players in the 2017 class. Kuhbander has special talent and seems to be a natural kicker."
It's hard to quantify the importance of a consistent kicker in football. Four of our staff members, myself included, placed Jack Mitchell among our Top 10 most important players for the upcoming season. This importance was further displayed in the 2016 NFL Draft, when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected Florida State kicker Roberto Aguayo in the 2nd round.
In an interview with PewterReport, Tampa Bay General Manager Jason Licht explained how the selection came from what the mastermind head coach Bill Belichick taught him in New England.
"In New England, Bill Belichick made us scouts list our roster from 1-53 and we had eight practice squad guys and we had some guys on I.R., but he wanted us to rank our guys from first to last," Licht told PR. "None of us had the kicker, Stephen Gostkowski, in our top 10 - even though he was an excellent kicker. After we were done, Bill said, ‘Nobody wants to put Gostkowski in our top 10? Why, just because he's a kicker?' Bill made us "rethink that" and he got his point across. He said, ‘You tell me 10 other players that are more important than him!'
"It was an eye-opening moment for me. I had been around Adam Vinatieri and Gostkowski and those are two of the best. I know how good of a feeling that is to have a guy like that when you know that a lot of the games are going to come down to field goals - a lot of the games come down to the kicker."
Gostkowski is the eight-highest paid player on the Patriots, and deservingly so. Kickers are important, perhaps just as much so in college football as in the NFL, if not more so.
And although he's certainly had special moments, Jack Mitchell has never been the epitome of consistency. Missing field goals concede good field position, waste good drives, and can lead to important point swings. Missing extra points is just inexcusable.
Last season, Mitchell missed three extra points (out of 28) and nine field goals (out of 27). Northwestern was largely unaffected by this; its three losses were by significant margins. However, it did make a major difference in Fitzgerald's decision making deep in opponent territory. Trusting your kicker is extremely important.
Now by no means am I comparing the rising high school senior Kuhbander to Stephen Gostkowski, but he's an exciting addition to the 2017 class that will bring some consistency to Northwestern special teams. Further, it's exciting — or at least notable — to see Fitzgerald make kicking a focus of his recruiting. Kuhbander describes his strengths as his "accuracy, leg strength, and ability to stay calm under pressure."
At the very least he can kick a 60-yard field goal while blindfolded.
60 yard field goal BLINDFOLDED ✅ pic.twitter.com/VLwgg6Y6h9— Charlie Kuhbander (@CKuhbander) May 12, 2016
For Northwestern, Kuhbander, blindfolded or not, shows a commitment to the kicking game that has been lacking over the past few seasons. And that's an encouraging sign for all Wildcat fans.