The more David Nadeau thought about it, the more nervous he got. No wonder, given the situation facing the Minnesota Duluth kicker: a 32-yard field-goal attempt, on the final play of last fall's NCAA Division II championship game, with the score tied at 17.
All that pressure made Nadeau feel queasy -- but not until he watched the replay a couple of days later. In real time, he cleared his mind and nailed the kick, just as he's done dozens of times in his Bulldogs career. Sealing UMD's second national title in three seasons may stand as his most memorable achievement. But the senior from White Bear Lake also holds 15 school records, with another opportunity to add to his legacy Saturday when the Bulldogs play host to Wayne State (Mich.) in the Division II quarterfinals.
Nadeau didn't play football until his junior year of high school, when he was recruited from the soccer team. A walk-on at UMD, he won the kicking job -- and later a scholarship -- as a true freshman in 2008.
In October, he made a 55-yard field goal in a victory over the University of Mary, breaking a UMD record that had stood for 34 years. He also has converted 73 consecutive points after touchdown and owns school marks for most field goals (43), extra points (256) and points by a kicker (385). Though he is nearing the end of his Bulldogs career, Nadeau will keep his emotions in check until it's finished -- just as he's done with every one of his kicks.
"I try to stay relaxed and not get too excited during games,'' Nadeau said. "If I get excited, my mechanics will be off, and everything will be out of whack.
"The whole emotion of [the championship game], I didn't grasp it at first. At the time, I didn't feel any of it, and it didn't hit me until I came home. I went through it like any other kick. It all comes down to preparation.''
The Bulldogs do a fine job of that in every practice. They always end with a drill called "Field Goal for the Game,'' which replicates the circumstances Nadeau faced in the championship game against Delta State. Day after day, he had made those kicks in wind and rain and bitter cold, with his teammates screaming at him just to make things a little tougher.
That routine has helped Nadeau develop his consistency. His desire to learn -- and a work ethic that coach Bob Nielson said is rare for a kicker -- helped him refine his technique.
Nadeau's years as a soccer defenseman had built a strong leg, and he became White Bear Lake's starting kicker in his first season of football. Though the motion did not come naturally to him, he was intrigued by the mechanics of kicking and began attending camps. The experience he gained in his freshman season with the Bulldogs, which ended with a national championship, left Nadeau confident that he could make a mark at UMD.
Nielson felt the same way. "David matured very rapidly as a kicker, and he worked hard to improve himself,'' he said. "You need your kicker to be confident, but you also need them to have a flat-line emotional level, because of the pressure they're under. That's David. He gives us confidence that inside a certain area of the field we're going to get at least three points.''
At UMD, Nadeau also has improved his leg strength, leading Nielson to allow him to attempt more long-distance kicks. This season, seven of his 12 field goals have been 40 yards or longer, including the 55-yarder that set the school record. Nadeau also connected from 47 yards in the victory over Mary and made a 46-yarder in last week's upset of No. 1 Colorado State-Pueblo.
Concentration and repetition have been integral to Nadeau's success, and he believes those qualities are just as critical to the Bulldogs' title defense. If they can perform up to their capabilities and eliminate mistakes, he said, they have a chance to play on -- and perhaps add another highlight to his career.
"We have a chip on our shoulder, because everyone has been saying we're not the same team we had been the last couple of years,'' Nadeau said. "We feel like they've awakened the sleeping giant. We're playing our best football right now, and we're excited to see how far we can take this.''