Mitch Ewald gets his kicks as Indiana leader

During a football practice, kickers are usually in their own little worlds. They're often on another field or alone in a field house practicing their crafts -- part of the team, yes, but mostly apart from it.

Mitch Ewald doesn't like that. So this spring, as Indiana would begin warmups, you could find the Hoosiers' 5-foot-10, 174-pound kicker running routes and catching passes with the receiver group.

"When Coach [Kevin] Wilson sees me, he just points and laughs," Ewald told ESPN.com this spring. "But when I wear the gloves, my hands are all right."

Ewald isn't content to just do his own thing. He's a fifth-year senior who has handled Indiana's field goals and kickoffs for the past three seasons, so he feels some ownership of the team.

"I really wanted to step out of my comfort zone and be more vocal this year," he said. "Be more one of the guys rather than just the kicker specialist."

You rarely see kickers mentioned as team captains, but the Hoosiers will take leadership where they can get it. Wilson has thrown boatloads of freshmen into the fire the past two seasons, and last year's team had only three senior starters. Ewald is one of the lone true veterans who has played the past three seasons.

Wilson said that in a vote for captains this spring, Ewald finished in the top six.

"Our kids respect him a lot," he said. "Of course, that also tells you something about where our team is at right now."

Even if Ewald were to just focus on his kicking, he'd be a valuable member of the team. He has made 44 of 55 kicks during his career and was second in the Big Ten in touchbacks on kickoffs last year.

He needs just five more field goals to become Indiana's career leader and 13 to break the school's all-time extra points record. He will also likely pass Antwaan Randle El as the No. 2 scorer in Hoosiers history.

"I'd be lying if I told you I didn't know about it and wasn't looking forward to it," Ewald said. "But I'm not putting too much pressure on myself about it."

With so much experience, Ewald says he doesn't get nervous before kicks anymore, though he does have to make sure he doesn't get too hyped up and try to be too perfect with his form. He dreams of kicking another big game winner like he had to end his freshman year, when his 31-yarder in overtime sealed the victory at rival Purdue.

"He has the potential where he should be one of the upper kids in this league," Wilson said. "I think he's got the makeup of a kid who can be a kicker in the NFL."

Even if Wilson gets his wish and the Hoosiers are scoring too many more touchdowns to need the field goal unit this season, Ewald will do his best to be a leading voice on the team. And who knows? Maybe he'll help them out on a trick play, because he has been practicing his receiving skills.