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Throwback Thursday: Memorable Notre Dame Walk-On Kickers

Kicking it with some big names from the past

University of Washington Huskies vUniversity of Notre Dame Fighting Irish
SOUTH BEND, IN- SEPTEMBER 25: D.J. Fitzpatrick #19 of the University of Notre Dame kicks the extra point agains tthe University of Washington Huskies at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana, on September 25, 2004. The Irish won 38-3.
Photo by Notre Dame/Collegiate Images via Getty Images

Every college football team needs a kicker. And while the talent (or lack thereof) of said kicker can win or lose games, it is not always possible to dedicate a scholarship to a kicker. Over the years there have been some memorable walk-on kickers for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. For this week’s Throwback Thursday, I’m going to highlight some of the best.

Bob Thomas (1971-73)

BobThomas was a three-year starter at the University of Notre Dame. He was a clutch team player in the 1973 season, kicking three successful field goals to help snap USC’s 20-game unbeaten streak, along with the 19-yard game winning kick in the 24-23 Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama. He played for 11 years in the NFL on his way to becoming an Illinois Supreme Court Justice.

Chuck Male 1978-79

Chuck Male, a native of Kansas City, MO, moved with his family to Mishawaka, Indiana, when he was in the sixth grade. He began his college football career at Western Michigan University, where he earned the starting position his freshmen year, and then he gained his admission to Notre Dame. As much as he liked the security of having the starting job at Western, he followed his dreams and transferred to Notre Dame. Male kicked 22 successful field goals in 1978 and 1979, the highlight of which came in 1979 with his single-game record 4-of-4 field goals in a 12-10 upset of Michigan. Male’s 13 field goals as a senior in ’79 tied Dave Reeve for the Notre Dame single-season record.

Joe Unis 1978-79

Joe Unis took over as kicker when Chuck Male got injured late in the 1978 season, and his memorable Notre Dame moment came in the 1979 Cotton Bowl comeback over the University of Houston. After missing an extra point early in the first quarter, Unis wouldn’t get another chance to kick an extra point until the end of the fourth quarter when Notre Dame quarterback (Joe Montana) scored what would be the winning touchdown with no time left on the clock. Unis lined up to kick the extra point but the Irish were called for illegal motion. Unis would have to kick again, this time from the 25-yard line. The second kick was perfectly straight and sailed right through the uprights, creating a moment no one will likely forget.

Mike Johnston 1980-83

Mike Johnston spent his first two years at Notre Dame primarily as a kickoff man, but in his junior season he successfully kicked three field goals in the season opener win over Michigan, and earned himself a scholarship. Three weeks later, his memorable moment occurred when he helped Notre Dame beat the University of Miami as his completed field goal pushed the Irish ahead of the Hurricanes 16-14 with a mere 11 seconds remaining on the clock. He finished the season completing 19-of-22 field goals.

John Carney 1984-86

John Carney broke the single-season field goal percentage at Notre Dame by completing 17-of-19 field goals as a sophomore (.894), and making all ten from the 40-49 yard range. Carney had 51 career field goals during his time at Notre Dame, and played in the NFL for 23 years.

Ted Gradel 1987

Ted Gradel got his opportunity to be an Irish starter during his senior season. He was 14-of-18 on his field goal attempts that year, completing three per game in the victories over Purdue and Alabama. He joined Thomas and Carney as the only Irish kickers to finish a season with a perfect extra point record.

Reggie Ho 1988

Reggie Ho, at just 5’5”, and 131-pounds, was exactly what the 1988 team needed on their journey to the National Championship. The Hawaii native, who is now a cardiologist at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, made all four of his field goal attempts in the home opening 19-17 victory over Michigan. He also made his only field goal attempt in the incredible 31-30 defeat of No. 1 Miami.

Kevin Pendergast

Kevin Pendergast was a member of the Notre Dame soccer team when starter Craig Hentrich was injured in 1991, and Kevin was asked to join the football program. As a senior in 1993, he completed 14-of-19 field goals and finished his career with a 31-yard field goal which would secure the Irish victory over Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl, 24-21.

DJ Fitzpatrick 2002-05

DJ Fitzpatrick was a product of the local Marian High School (which was also where Male went to high school), and was not only a good kicker, but an excellent golfer as well. He was the captain of his state championship golf team his senior year of high school. Fitzpatrick became the Irish starting kicker and punter in 2003 and successfully completed 34 field goals in his career at Notre Dame. The highlight kick of his career was a 40-yard field goal to beat Navy in 2003, which sailed through the uprights just as the clock hit zero.

Next week I will go into greater detail on one of the above kickers ... stay tuned!

Cheers & GO IRISH!