Talking IU kicking, veteran guidance and the future with Mitch Ewald

When the phone calls from Bloomington pop onto his phone every so often, Mitch Ewald isn’t necessarily tasked with dealing point-by-point advice.

No, just a little guidance will do.

The former Indiana kicker still connects with the men who’ve succeeded him on the Hoosiers’ specialists unit, and he’s happy to provide whatever he can to both Griffin Oakes and Aaron Del Grosso to ease concerns or give a bit of help.

“A lot of times it’s not so much asking for advice,” Ewald said. “Sometimes, it’s just asking certain questions like where my head was at, how to handle certain specifics, how to slow the game down in your mind, how to handle the clock. … Over the phone, it’s kind of hard to really discuss technique, so it’s kind of just talking with them and helping them mentally with the game, really.”

Ewald has remained connected to both Oakes and Del Grosso with calls and texts through the summer and into the fall. It’s an extension of the guidance he provided the two players when they were true freshmen walk-ons last fall.

Then, of course, the job firmly belonged to Ewald, who left Indiana as the program’s all-time leader in field goals (53), field goal percentage (80.3) and extra points (161-of-162).

As mentioned in today’s story on Oakes, Ewald took on the role of big brother. He had both Oakes and Del Grosso carry the ball bags and watch him closely on the practice fields.

“I’d have them watch me on my kicks and tell me what I’m doing,” Ewald said. “Well, I know what I’m doing, but I was having them watch me to see my form and my technique. That’s the biggest part of it, going back to last year. They had that year to kind of watch and grow, get stronger and get a feel for it.”

Ewald also explained some of the drills he tried to pass along to the young guys.

“There’s a really goofy balance drill I’ve done my whole career,” he said. “When we’d go over to the game field during practice, I’d be standing on the bench with my left foot on the bench, balancing as if I’m planting to kick the ball. I’d go through my swing, the back swing, contact and the follow through. Neither of them had done that ever before. I do it all the time. It gets you out of a funk — there’s something about it that creates muscle memory. I didn’t make them do it every day, but certainly if they were struggling or starting to figure something out, I’d say, ‘Hey, let’s go do that.’

“The most important thing is muscle memory drills. A kick comes down to 1.3 seconds and you don’t have enough time to think. You’re gonna do what your instincts tell you to do. As far as another thing I did — I don’t know if they’ve followed through, but I know that they started doing it a little toward the end of the year — I like to make everything game-like. Halfway through practice, (long snapper Matt Dooley and punter/holder Erich Toth) and I would go on the game field and we’d throw six, seven, eight balls on the field and wherever they landed, we had to go set up. I’d be putting scenarios in my head and saying it out loud to Toth and Dooley. I’d say, ‘Field goal! Field goal!’ and we’d all run out from the sideline to make it game-like. I know, eventually, those other two did it, as well. I’d assume they kind of continued with it.”

After graduating from IU, Ewald spent NFL training camp with the Denver Broncos. He connected on all five of his extra point attempts over three games with Denver, and kicked a 22-yard field goal against San Francisco before missing one from 36 yards a week later against Houston. Denver cut him on Aug. 26.

Since then, Ewald has been spending time in his hometown of Chicago, watching all of Indiana’s games on television. The NFL remains an option, Ewald said, and he’s heard from three teams that are interested in bringing him in for workouts over the next few weeks.

“It’s a process,” he said. “As a rookie right now, a lot of times in the middle of the season, teams will bring in a veteran before they bring in the rookie. But there are still a lot of teams showing interest, so it’s hard to hang it up.”

Meantime, he’ll have his phone ready, whether it’s the NFL or a couple of guys in Bloomington waiting for him on the other end.