Justus making dreams a reality at IU

There are Hoosier boys who flocked to basketball hoops in driveways or on the side of barns.

Others grew up in their blue Peyton Manning jerseys, tossing footballs around with their friends in the street.

Indiana senior Logan Justus was just a little different.

At the edge of his parents’ property in McCordsville, there are trees. Two of those trees were tall enough, and far enough apart, to cater to his dreams.

“Everyone always wanted to be, like, a quarterback or something,” Justus said. “But ever since I was little, I always wanted to be the kicker.”

Through the goalposts nature offered him, Justus kicked balls clear into the neighbor’s yard. His mom and dad would help retrieve them.

Nature, it seems, intended for Justus to be a kicker. His left leg is strong. His personality type is reserved but laidback, which means he isn’t easily consumed by conversation, crowd noise, or high-pressure situations.

As a Hoosier, he’s been nearly perfect. In two seasons, Justus has combined to blast 29-of-32 field goals through the uprights. He’s 14-of-14 this season, one kick shy of Austin Starr’s program-record streak of 15.

Justus is also one of just three kickers at the FBS level not to miss this season, along with Oklahoma’s Gabe Brkic (12-of-12) and Wake Forest’s Nick Sciba (21-of-21).

This was a natural road for Justus to take, but it was still long. A fifth-year senior, Justus started as a walk-on and spent three seasons behind Griffin Oakes. Split between football, soccer, and hockey for parts of his prep career, no one quite knew the depth of Justus’ potential until he arrived in Bloomington and worked only on the craft of kicking.

For five years, he’s kicked and kicked. Through IU’s yellow uprights. Through the trees back home. Through a pair of branches his mother, Dawn, found on the ground during a summer vacation and held up with her hands.

Now the boy who dreamed of being Adam Vinatieri is seriously contemplating a run at the NFL once his final season with the Hoosiers is complete.

“It’s my No. 1 thing,” Justus said. “I’ve always wanted to.”

Dawn and Dan Justus wouldn’t doubt their son, who has always been uniquely determined.

They would know, because they are former athletes themselves. Dawn was a state champion gymnast. Dan was a football player and wrestler. They encouraged their sons to participate in at least one sport a season.

Logan somehow juggled three sports in the fall.

“I was the taxi,” Dawn said. “From high school soccer practice over to the football field. From football, I’d pick him up and he’s changing in the car, going straight to the hockey rink. Then he’d shower, head home, and he’d do his homework. He’s always been very disciplined.”

Justus, whose parents were also bodybuilders, is far from a stereotypically puny kicker. Recently, he bench-pressed two reps of 365 pounds. He can squat around 400.

In high school, he boomed soccer balls from one end of the field to the other. In football, he was as much a receiver and defensive back as a kicker for Mt. Vernon. He’d spend extra time after practice, or on weekends, honing his kicking form.

Justus was also a talented hockey player. Smooth on his skates and hard with his checks, he was an “enforcer” type who had a low tolerance for the other team’s bullies.

“He was rough,” Dan said. “He spent a lot of time in the penalty box. It’s very unlikely for Logan because if you’ve ever met him, he would never hurt a fly. Just doesn’t have a mean streak in him.

“But when he got in the rink, he was an animal.”

Cole Justus fondly remembers a time when his younger brother laid out an opponent at the center of the rink and fed a teammate up the ice for a score.

“Not too many kids were as strong as him,” Cole said. “It was easy for him to flick them like a booger.”

That fearlessness is still an odd twist in Logan’s personality. He is the opposite of Cole, who is more outgoing and rambunctious. In high school, Logan was so averse to conflict, he’d notice a problem with his sandwich order and would make Cole return to the register to get it fixed.

“Because you’re the mean one,” Logan would say.

Even if he’s a little shy, Logan has never shied away from competition. And he is cool under pressure. For Mt. Vernon, Justus hit game-winning field goals to top Delta in back-to-back years.

That unshakeable demeanor comes from one parent and definitely not the other. Dawn, an experienced nurse, isn’t easily rattled. To this day, Dan, who is in the real estate business, can’t eat the day of Logan’s games.

“Tums smoothies” are the only thing he can keep down.

“A kicker’s parent is kind of like a quarterback’s — everybody is watching the kicker,” Dan said. “Everything stops, and either you’re the hero or you’re the bad guy on that play. But Logan, he focuses. He doesn’t let the crowd and everything bother him. He’s calm.”

Justus had to be patient for his turn to arrive at IU, which may have been a good thing.

His technique was somewhat unrefined, because he didn’t frequent a ton of kicking camps growing up. He was busy with other sports and school.

His focus was on IU because of its medical program. So senior year, Justus went to an IU prospect camp and then-coach Kevin Wilson spotted the lefty’s leg.

For three years, Justus learned from Oakes. He watched how his more veteran counterpart worked to get better every day. He watched Oakes as he readied to kick in front of thousands of screaming fans — rather than just a few hundred at Delta — blocking out all the noise.

By his fourth year, the redshirt junior was ready to capitalize on his opportunity. Justus made big kicks, none bigger than a game-winner from 42 yards out versus Maryland.

A semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award in both 2018 and ‘19, Justus has gained the full faith of the IU coaching staff.

“I just think there’s a consistency in how he prepares. He trains really hard,” IU coach Tom Allen said. “When I first got here, the ball hooked quite a bit. Just really worked hard to get him to get more of a vertical launch, as well as extension to stay through it. I think these last couple years, he’s kicked his very, very best.

“Sometimes guys are clutch and some guys are not. … And we’re going to need him — I guarantee he’s going to have to come up and win a game for us.”

The Justus family believes in Logan’s abilities, as well. But nothing seems to calm Dan’s nerves.

He is the first one in the stadium on game days, catching his son after pregame warmups to ask how his leg feels, or talk about how the wind is blowing.

“We have a joke that he gets nervous for me,” Justus said. “He just sets the bar high and always wants to be the best. But I know I can never disappoint him.”

They are a close family. Dawn, Dan, and Cole have religiously attended Logan’s games, though Dawn sits a few persons removed from Dan. She’s less occupied with nerves than video-recording, because Dawn sends clips of punter Haydon Whitehead’s kicks to his parents in Australia.

Whitehead is an adopted member of the Justus clan. He is Logan’s roommate (along with Logan’s Ball python, Medusa). He is also Logan’s holder, a fellow lefty.

“You gotta trust your holder, and I know Haydon and Logan are really close,” Cole said. “That eases Logan, too. He’s in good hands.”

Everything has worked out well for Justus at IU, though maybe not exactly as first planned.

He’s not studying medicine. He is an exercise science major, thinking about going to school to become a chiropractor once football is through.

But it’s still a question of when. Justus is hoping the professional ranks — something he could only dream about as a kid — might become a reality.

The fact that it’s not some far-off fantasy is only starting to hit home.

“I think it’s pretty wild,” Justus said. “How many people get to say they’ve reached their goals? I just think it’s amazing.”


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