Kyle Brindza overcomes odds to lift Irish

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The thrill of seeing Mom back from work far outweighed reason for Kyle Brindza, who, some 15 years later, has yet to really take the latter into account.

But this was a 3 or 4-year-old, and this was Mom, and so Brindza -- leg brace-free following another of what would be five surgeries to repair club foot -- could not control his excitement.

"My parents' living room kind of was like a step down into it, and he came running and he jumped," Tiffany Brindza said, "and lo and behold, we were at the emergency room that night because he broke his ankle.

"It's like, 'Oh my gosh, kid!' "

The giddiness was hardly toned-down last Saturday following Brindza's game-winning field goal, his mother breaking down in tears as she hugged her son. Forty-eight hours earlier, Brindza had only kickoff duties on his plate. However, an injury ahead of him forced him into his first career start as a placekicker.

Notre Dame's only Michigan native is the Irish's starter again this Saturday at Michigan State, eight years removed from what he hopes was the final surgery to repair a condition that doctors said would keep him from ever taking the field, let alone at the position that puts the foot in football.

"They're turned backwards," Brindza said of his feet. "So when I was born they had to turn it back. And growing up I had to face several surgeries, the latest one I was in sixth grade -- they had to extend my Achilles' tendon in my kicking leg, and in doing so they had to take some muscle out."

Brindza had casts placed on both of his legs immediately after he was born, having to switch them every three weeks for the first three months of his life. The right foot, his kicking foot, was worse than the left. His left calf is currently bigger than the right one.

When kids down the street would play roller hockey, Brindza would go out and join them without roller blades. Naive of his condition when running around, Brindza didn't understand why some of his peers would yell "Run, Forrest. Run!" until he saw the movie "Forrest Gump."

He started playing soccer when he was 4, and though he didn't know it at the time -- and still doesn't remember it -- the sight of a children's book about reaching goals that a local youth coach had written would plant the seeds for him wanting to be a kicker.

When his family moved years later, Brindza's mother found the book and reminded him of his earlier fascination with it.

"I was like, 'Seriously?' " Brindza recalled with a smile. "I didn't even know that. I had never thought about kicking even through middle school or anything. But my mom even said when I went up and first started playing soccer, when I first started running around in casts, not even walking first, I would always just start kicking the soccer ball around.

"It was just the craziest thing that something someone once said I couldn't do, to end up doing at such a young age. I was kind of a fearless kid, just trying to do whatever I could do."

His mother, who would never say no to a new sport or activity despite doctors' cautions, couldn't bear to watch Saturday after her son lined up with 11 seconds left to attempt a 27-yard game-winner.

Nerves had forced her son to miss his first career try, a 40-yard try he had hooked left.

"Let the crowd tell you what it does," Tiffany told herself. "I had my head down looking, and as soon as I heard the crowd yelling and screaming, I knew he made it through. So then I said, 'Look.' "

What she saw brought tears to her eyes -- her team in front on the foot of her son, mobbed by teammates, another test passed.