Pittsburgh kicker Kevin Harper (39) and holder Matt Yoklic react after Harper missed what would have been the game-winning field goal in the second overtime period against Notre Dame (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Kicking is a small world and Christen and Harper became fast friends at a kicking camp this summer. Christen used a developing friendship – more like kinship – to solicit advice on how to be a kicker.
Christen had been David Teggart's backup for two years and his holder – he had never attempted a college field goal – but was slated to be the place kicker for the Huskies (3-6, 0-4 Big East) for the upcoming season.
Harper told him about what that's like and how hard being a kicker can be.
Christen remembered that advice this past week when he saw Harper miss a replay of the 33-yard missed field goal in overtime for Pittsburgh (4-5, 1-3) that would have secured a win over undefeated Notre Dame.
“It was a tough break for him,” Christen said. “He missed one field goal that game, was 4 for 5 and if you look at the miss, it looked like a high snap and it threw him off.”
That comes with the territory with being a kicker, Harper told Christen just that.
“He told me about his first games as a starter and couple of misses he had, a couple of short ones, and couldn't believe it,” Christen said Tuesday. “You feel for these guys. It happens to every kicker. No kicker has gone 100 percent. Almost every kicker has missed a critical situation field goal they would like to get back.”
When the pair meet on Friday night at Rentschler Field for a brief pregame talk – all opposing kickers talk pregame, it's a kicker thing – it might be time for Christen to give Harper some advice: How to recover from missing kicks that cost your team a game.
Christen knows it well. The Huskies' loss to Temple was on Christen. The junior kicker had a nightmarish game against the Owls missing three field goals and having one blocked. His last miss, from 28 yards in overtime, led to a 17-14 UConn loss and a lot of soul searching.
Christen had a bad week of practice and went back to the drawing board with two weeks to prepare. Christen bounced back with a 23-yarder against Syracuse and then two long kicks at South Florida, 37-yard and 50-yards as he accounted for the only UConn points.
For Christen, regaining confidence was something that he had to do after a devastating game against Temple. That started with preparation. Christen had a terrible week kicking in practice during Temple week and it carried over.
“It was about mental approach after Temple game,” Christen said. “It was mental errors in that game and I know I am capable of making field goals. It was an accumulation of things and it really hurt my confidence. The way I rebounded was I took a different approach the next weeks and it has really helped me. I was able to bounce back and gain confidence back after the Temple game. It was a matter of changing my mental approach to the game and taking things more serious during the week. Thursday's, I have been more meticulous with how I approached the field goal situation.”
Christen's season, minus the four missed field goals, has been excellent. He is 10 of 13 outside of that disastrous Temple game and had his career long on the grass at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. Christen also has been perfect on extra points at 19 of 19 this season.
Field goal kickers have to have a short memory and move on. That's a lesson Christen learned this summer from Harper.