Sean Nuernberger has his thump back.
It’s the telltale sound that a kicker is swinging freely and striking the ball with authority. It’s something Nuernberger was missing the past two seasons while watching a couple of transfers handle the kicking duties for Ohio State, even though he had been the kicker of record on OSU’s 2014 national championship team.
But the thump has returned, and coach Urban Meyer can hear it.
“He’s hitting it now,” Meyer said Monday. “In practice, he hit a 57-yarder the other day.”
Through four games this season, in fact, Nuernberger is 7 of 7 on field-goal tries and 18 of 18 on extra-point attempts. Beyond the statistical perfection, most of those kicks have been on point, too.
“Some of the ones that I’ve made, I can get a lot better hits,” Nuernberger said. “But I think I’ve gotten a lot better at getting through the ball on every single one, even on some that I’ve mis-hit a little bit — they’ve still come off pretty well with good height.”
Three years ago, Nuernberger was something of a phenom coming out of a Kentucky high school and earning the No. 1 job for the Buckeyes. But in 2015 while he was dealing with a groin-muscle pull, he watched Duke transfer Jack Willoughby do most of the kicking.
Slow to heal going into last season, Nuernberger saw Tyler Durbin — a one-time soccer player at James Madison who had never kicked in a real football game — take the job. Even though Durbin struggled late in the year, missing 4 of 5 field-goal attempts in the final two games — making only 1 of 3 against Michigan and missing twice against Clemson — Nuernberger was not summoned.
The payoff now is that he feels fully healed from the injury that robbed him of his confidence.
“When I started to kick again last year, every kick you’re kind of scared; you don’t want to hurt yourself,” Nuernberger said. “You just don’t ever kick 100 percent, right? It’s always in your subconscious mind.”
Now, though, he is kicking with authority.
“I’ve kicked long enough with no injury, no pain, to where every single ball, I can go after and really try to hit the ball hard and not really worry about anything,” he said.
Meyer indicated that what helped the injury bug bite Nuernberger after his freshman season was a bit of the kicker’s fault.
“He was a little boy when he first got here and acted like a little boy and didn’t prepare like a grown man,” Meyer said. “I think his family and this program have done wonders for him because he’s a grown man. He’s really handling it.”
Nuernberger feels the same way, that time has been his friend.
“I can definitely handle it now. I’m a lot more composed when I go out there, especially compared to the last time I kicked in 2015 or whenever that was,” Nuernberger said. “I feel completely different. Back then I was kind of nervous running out there.
“Now I feel like I’ve been at Ohio State for 12 years. … It feels a lot better.”