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PK Tausch could be a key for the Irish

Hailing from a state that boasts everything being bigger, it was assumed that Texas native Nick Tausch would embody that motto. With a former NFL guard for a father, his was a genetic predisposition to live large.

Instead, Terry Tausch's dump-truck size bypassed the Notre Dame sophomore kicker and was unloaded on younger brother Eric Tausch, an offensive lineman at Texas Christian.

"I pretty much look like my mom (Ela)," Nick Tausch (6-0, 190) said by phone Thursday from his Plano home. "She's pretty small."

There's nothing small about Tausch's leg, one that powered a 14-for-17 field goal effort (82.4 percent) as a freshman starter last season before missing the final three games with an ankle injury. Highlighted by a 46-yarder against Michigan State that secured a 33-30 victory, Tausch also was successful on 27 of 30 PAT attempts.

His power will only improve as his body continues to mature, but it's his consistency that was such welcomed change. Not since D.J. Fitzpatrick, who connected on 73.3 percent of his FGs in 2004 (11-for-15), has an Irish kicker worked above a 65-percent clip with at least 10 attempts.

"It was surprising," Tausch said of Notre Dame's struggles. "I know that elite programs recruit the best and are out there to find the best guys. But it's different than any other position. Schools aren't going to recruit a kicker every single year."

That strategy kicked the Fighting Irish in the tail in 2007 and squarely in the teeth in '08 as Brandon Walker stumbled through his first two seasons. Walker missed 10 field goals as a freshman and six of his first seven attempts to start his sophomore year, prompting former coach Charlie Weis in October to pluck walk-on David Ruffer from Notre Dame's patchy intramural fields. The move temporarily inspired Walker, who showed flashes of brilliance and poise in an epic tilt with Pittsburgh in South Bend. Walker struck four times in the four-overtime thriller, including a 48-yarder that kept the Irish alive in the third extra period.

Three weeks later on the same turf against Syracuse, Walker missed three of six attempts in an embarrassing defeat. A back injury sidelined Walker last season, leaving the door wide open for Tausch, who expected nothing less than to immediately fill the vacancy.

"Oh yeah," he said. "I went in and trained pretty hard and put myself in a spot to be the guy. I just did my thing and had fun doing it and I'm doing pretty well."

Surprisingly, Ruffer, who will be a senior this fall, faired well when Tausch went down, converting all five attempts in Notre Dame's final three contests

Without them, a white-knuckled 2009 season that saw 10 of ND's 12 games come down to seven points or fewer, could have been far worse than the 6-6 record the Irish slapped together. Tausch said the never-ending tension was valuable experience and that he relished the pressure.

"When you're called upon to make a kick when the game's on the line ... I liked being in that situation," he said. "It fits with my personality. You can just feel it -- the atmosphere -- with a chance to win it for the team. Now I've done it ... but you can't be satisfied with what you've done in the past."