This is how badly North Carolina kicker Nick Weiler wanted to prove himself this season. Every weekend in the summer, he drove 15 minutes to a park outside Chapel Hill with snapper Kyle Murphy and holder Joey Mangili.
Bill Renner would meet them there, with PVC pipes in his trunk. Together, they would piece the pipes together until they stood upright: homemade field-goal posts standing 6 feet apart. Renner taught Weiler how to kick in high school, then moved to Chapel Hill to watch son Bryn play for the Tar Heels.
Still in the area, it was time for Renner to coach Weiler up all over again.
“I wanted to be a weapon for the team, and I knew what I had to do in the offseason,” Weiler said in a recent phone interview. “We went through these kicking workouts. No one was really around. It was a rocky training atmosphere, no distractions. ... I think we got our confidence going and from the start of training camp, we were delivering and it grew from there.”
Indeed, Weiler became an unsung hero for the Tar Heels during their run to the ACC championship game this season. In 2014, Weiler shared kicking duties with Thomas Moore. To borrow a word from Weiler, neither delivered.
The Tar Heels failed to make one kick over 30 yards. Weiler started as kicker, lost his job and then got it back. He finished just 5-of-8. After that disappointment, Weiler vowed things would change. Completely healthy after sports hernia surgery hindered his 2014 season, Weiler got to work on Jan. 1, 2015, vowing to be better than ever.
“We were relentless,” Weiler said. “Basically no days off.”
Not only did Weiler work with Murphy and Mangili on his own, and not only did he work with Renner, but he also worked with kicking coach Brandon Kornblue and attended several camps, learning from former Notre Dame kicker Kyle Brindza.
All that work, combined with being completely healthy, allowed Weiler to shine. Through 13 games, Weiler scored 119 points, second on the school’s single-season scoring list behind Don McCauley (126 points in 1970). He also earned a spot on the coaches' All-ACC third team.
He went 19-of-22 on field-goal attempts, including 4-of-6 from 40 yards. While he didn’t hit every kick perfectly, the fact that the Tar Heels made multiple kicks over 40 yards was cause for celebration considering what happened the previous season.
Essentially, coach Larry Fedora could stop cringing every time his kicker took the field.
But aside from his improved kicking, you could make the argument that Weiler is known just as much for his hair, which extends well beyond the back of his helmet. Weiler started growing it out last season and decided not to cut it.
“It was a ‘long hair, don’t care' attitude, where I was going to focus on kicking, getting stronger, getting faster, a warrior attitude to the position of kicking that it isn’t that mentality ever,” Weiler said. “Just playing different positions in high school, there’s not many kickers that do that, and I wanted to bring a very intense, competitive practice attitude to it.”
Weiler began playing football in high school as a safety and wide receiver, but decided to give kicking a try because he thought it would help the team. He had a strong leg after years playing soccer, a sport his brother (Kentucky/Virginia) and sister (Pitt) both played in college.
He ended up walking on at North Carolina before going on scholarship after last season. The success he had this season means he won’t cut his hair, despite requests from his mom.
“I get the Samson jokes all the time that if I cut my hair, I won’t be able to kick it as far,” Weiler said. “My mom wants me to cut it but I told her, ‘You’re going to get the fans mad.’”
Plus, the long hair goes with a little nickname he has, ala former Phillies pitcher Mitch Williams: “Weild Thing.”