ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan redshirt freshman Quinn Nordin has both the haircut and the attitude to match near-sighted ex-con relief pitcher Ricky Vaughn from the movie "Major League." He's got the power, too.
So if the fictional California Penal League, where Vaughn honed his craft, is in need of a place-kicker this fall, it would be well served to start its search in Ann Arbor.
Nordin broke a school record in his college debut by kicking two field goals of at least 50 yards (one for 50 and one for 55) in Michigan's 33-17 season-opening win over Florida. He added a 49-yarder as one of his five successful attempts in a win over Air Force on Saturday. That stat line (five in a single game) merely tied a school record. While the Wolverines struggle to find their groove on offense, they've relied on Nordin -- like Vaughn -- to be their closer.
"Ricky Vaughn. Wild Thing," Nordin said when asked what inspired him to carve a zig-zag pattern in the back of his head a la Charlie Sheen's character. "It's just the mentality of a closer. When the team needs me, I come in and make them."
Nordin said the look started as a gag, an attempt to add some levity to the dog days of training camp in August. It caught on, and after arriving in Texas he decided to keep it going. Brandon Kornblue, a former Michigan kicker and kicking coach who worked with Nordin throughout high school, was on the sideline when Nordin jogged out of the locker room without a helmet to unveil the hairdo.
"What on earth?" Kornblue said. "But that's Quinn. You've seen in college sports crazier hairstyles than that. It's just rare for a kicker."
Nordin's teammates say there is a lot about the rookie from Rockford, Michigan, that is "rare for a kicker," from his intensity to his sleeveless muscle shirts. They largely agree that he carries himself with a little more swagger than most specialists with whom they've shared a locker room. Even if he hadn't already taken 13 trips into the limelight (more than any kicker in the FBS through three games) and connected on 11 of those 13 attempts, he would still be hard for the folks in Ann Arbor to ignore.
Kornblue said that confidence is part of the reason Nordin was more coveted on the recruiting trail than any prospect he can recall tutoring in the past. He encouraged Nordin to visit as many campuses as necessary because his demeanor, even his posture, were a selling point that would set him apart as much as his powerful right leg.
Jim Harbaugh was so sold on the young kicker's potential that he packed an overnight bag (contents: "toothbrush and a good attitude") and scheduled a sleepover at the Nordin residence in January of Nordin's senior year. The sleepover quickly became one of Harbaugh's most memorable and most mocked recruiting ploys, but it worked. Shortly after the visit, Nordin decided to rethink his decision to attend Penn State the following year and eventually chose to sign a letter of intent with Michigan the following month.
At his current pace, Nordin is on track to make his recruitment a small footnote of his story at Michigan, but for now he's fine with being known as the sleepover recruit.
"That's the nature of the beast and that is a pretty funny story, so that's all right," he said. "Whatever happens happens, but that is something that is always going to be there."
Michigan's staff, of course, wasn't just attracted to Nordin's unorthodox way of carrying himself. He said he wasn't exactly sure how far back the coaches would trust him to kick a field goal at this rate, but he has put kicks through the uprights from 63 yards out in practice.
"He's booming 60s," defensive end and classmate Rashan Gary said. "Sixties! It's just crazy seeing that. There are some times I have to look back like, 'Wow, Quinn is a beast.'"
Nordin starts his warm-up session before each game by working on his accuracy. He tees up a ball on the back line of the end zone halfway between the back pylon and the goalposts. This is where the Ricky Vaughn comparisons end, because there is nothing wild about Nordin's control.
In warm-ups before Saturday's game, he took aim at the near goal post directly in front of him and on four consecutive attempts clanged it right off the metal. Kornblue said most of his kickers start every practice with this drill, focusing on the smallest target they can find so that putting it through the uprights instead of hitting one of them seems a lot easier when the game gets started. The idea is to put the ball as close to the goal post as possible; not many guys can hit it, especially four times in a row.
"That's not very common," he said. "That's not common at all."
Then again, neither is Nordin.