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Kicker boots bad habits, starts anew

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Three steps back, two to the right, deep breath, exhale.

"I'm going to make this."

They're five simple words, but no one heard them from redshirt sophomore placekicker Brendan Gibbons in 2010.

This season, those are the five words he says to himself before attempting field goals and PATs. His newfound confidence has made him nearly perfect this season -- 10-for-14 on field goal attempts, 52-for-53 on PATs.

Gibbons will admit the 2010 season was a mind game for himself and fellow kicker Seth Broekhuizen. Neither player knew who would be kicking the following weekend and sometimes they wouldn't find out until game day. Gibbons went on to finish the season 1-for-5 on field goal attempts, with his only made field goal a 24-yarder in the season opener against Connecticut.

He could hear the sighs of 110,00-plus people every time he would take the field or miss a kick. Gibbons lost his starting spot after the second game of the season and wouldn't attempt another field goal until the bowl game.

"I was pretty down," Gibbons said. "I didn't think it was fair, but it was coach's decision, coach's rules. I guess it was the right call for the team if we weren't making any kicks though."

But Michigan coach Brady Hoke approached Gibbons and the rest of the kickers with a new mentality. He told them he had confidence in his specialists and wanted competition at every spot. The best kicker would kick, end of story.

Over the summer, Gibbons began seeing Greg Harden, the director of athletic counseling at Michigan who has assisted players such as Tom Brady and Desmond Howard with their mindsets. Gibbons met with Harden once every other week, and Harden helped Gibbons change his mental approach.

"They brought you here for a reason, to do a job. You're a good kicker," Harden told him. "Your mechanics are there. You just need to relax and refocus." It wasn't a profound idea, but Gibbons had gone nearly an entire season without hearing those words.

After attending kicking clinics, and with the confidence of Hoke and Harden, Gibbons' attitude changed and he began impressing in off-season workouts.

"You have to have some swagger," Gibbons said. "If you go out there and think you're going to miss, then you're going to miss. If you go out there and think you're going to make it, then you're going to make it. I went after every single kick the same way and did what I was going to do."

His highlight of the season came in the Wolverines' 40-34 win over Ohio State. After suffering two penalties, Michigan was moved back to a fourth-and-26. The Wolverines held only a three-point lead. If Gibbons missed, Ohio State would get the ball and only have to get into field-goal range.

Gibbons completed the field goal and moved his personal best to 43 yards, a 1-yard improvement on his previous best, set the week before against Nebraska.

Hoke described that kick as "huge."

"There were some people that really doubted him at the beginning of the year, maybe some in this room," Hoke said to the media. "But he did a tremendous job all year, and he's grown and he's learned and he's got a good demeanor about him. He's worked hard."

Gibbons hopes he has the opportunity to kick in the Louisiana Superdome, though he admitted he doesn't think there's anywhere "bigger" to kick than the Big House.

But if he does get out there, he knows exactly what to do.

"Same thing, same process," Gibbons said. "Nothing changes."

Chantel Jennings covers University of Michigan sports for WolverineNation. She can be reached at jenningsespn@gmail.com or or on Twitter @chanteljennings.