He’s got “nerves of steel”, “ice water in his veins”, “cool as a cucumber”, the ever popular Bill Raftery “Onions!”…Pick your favorite “clutch” sports cliché. Being a top kicker requires the ability to trick your mind and ignore pressure. Even starting as a true freshman last season, Duke kicker Ross Martin said he only felt butterflies for the first game.
“After that first game, after the first kick, I was kind of, ‘This is routine. This is what I should be doing,’” the Ohio native said.
He is already climbing the all-time leaderboards for Duke kicking history after one season (check out pages 27-28, the Placekicking records). This offseason he said he has worked on consistency across the board. He even works on dealing with hecklers during team reps this summer.
“Obviously it’s not full rush, but it’s simulating game situations,” he said and smiled. “[I] usually get some of my friends to kind of heckle me, yell at me or something. A little added pressure. It’s all trying to simulate that game day atmosphere.”
When he’s not getting heckled by choice in practice, he works through other drills while playing mind games.
“I’ll go five yards into the end zone and try to get it over the upright,” he said. “Literally like a straight up kick, but thinking in my mind this is a real kick. This could be from 40 yards away and still the same trajectory.”
Even though it sounds like a Jedi mind trick, it works. Martin made 87 percent of his kicks last season. As for the guys who are trying to block the kick? Another mind trick. Poof, they disappear.
“I honestly don’t even look at them when I’m out there,” he said matter-of-factly. “Whether they’re doing a shift or they’re overloading one side, it’s not really a factor for me. Just because I know if the snap is good, the hold is good and my timing is good…if we do all that right it doesn’t matter what they do.”
He learned some of these mental gymnastics from one of his high school coaches, Jeff Wilkins. You may remember Jeff Wilkins as the kicker from the “Greatest Show on Turf” Rams from the early 2000’s.
“He’s been at the highest level,” Martin said. “He really mentored me through high school, and more of the mental aspects of kicking like keeping a cool head. The stuff that you can’t really teach technique-wise.”
If his first year is any indication, padawan Martin is well on his way to becoming a master.