“Run, Forrest, run!”
Some of the other children teased him. He was the boy in leg braces, the boy with the club foot, the boy who went through all those surgeries — through all those doubters. But always that smile.
“I was oblivious,” Kyle Brindza said. “Nothing fazed me. Not anything from anyone. I was always playing street hockey, soccer, anything. I was going to do what I wanted to do.”
And become an NFL kicker.
Last Sunday in New Orleans, the Bucs rookie made his first NFL field goal, followed by three more. Six of his seven kickoffs went for touchbacks. But that first field goal was a grabber. It was from 55 yards, tied for the longest field goal by an NFL player making his first successful kick. Thing is, it would have been good from 70 yards.
“I’m sure it was up there,” Brindza said. “It was pretty long.”
No longer than his journey.
“I love kicking because of the odds I was able to beat growing up, especially with it being my kicking foot,” Brindza said. “There were no odds. They never even put doing this in the picture.”
My kicking foot.
A journey of faith and family. And a superhero nicknamed “Poppy.”
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Tiffany Brindza gave birth to her youngest child and only son on Jan. 13, 1993. When the medical staff placed Kyle in her arms, he had a cast on his right leg.
He was born with a club right foot.
“It was pretty much turned in and backward and flipped over,” Kyle said.
He underwent several major surgeries, most at Shriners Hospital for Children in Chicago, the last of them when he was in sixth grade, to clip his Achilles tendon and stretch it out. To this day, he still does exercises for it. When Kyle is tired, his mother said, you’ll see the foot start to turn in again.
“There were doctors who told us he wasn’t going to be able to play sports,” Tiffany said.
She said there was one problem with that.
“Kyle never liked to be told he couldn’t do something.”
He began playing soccer when he was 4, wearing a plastic brace. He was a goalie, up through high school. He began kicking footballs as a freshman at Plymouth High in Canton, Michigan, just outside Detroit. He became a star. He also excelled at track and field, at discus and shot put. He held the school shot put record until last season.
Brindza was highly recruited. His college visits included Vanderbilt, Miami, Michigan and Michigan State. And Notre Dame. South Bend was his choice, for the academics, and because his hero went there.
“My grandfather got his MBA at Notre Dame,” Brindza said. “He raised me as a Notre Dame fan.”
Joseph Anthony Brindza, “Poppy” to his grandchildren, raised so many people in so many ways.
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Kyle and his twin older sisters, Kayla and Kynna, were raised by their single mom. Tiffany was divorced when Kyle was 1. She worked two jobs. She was all in for her kids. So was her family.
“My grandpa became my dad,” Kyle said.
Kyle has a tattoo on his chest with his grandfather’s initials, a cross and “Philippians 4:13.”
“That was our verse,” Kyle said.
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
Joe Brindza worked in steel mills as a metallurgical engineer. He watched over his flock: wife Paula, their three daughters and their families. He was a man of steel all by himself, about God and faith, about loving, listening, learning, teaching and giving.
He was at Kyle’s high school games. He went on the college visits. Even after he and his wife moved to Nashville, he’d make the long drive to Michigan to see his grandson’s games.
“He was my role model,” Kyle said.
Joe told his grandson to be proud of his family.
“And always give your best no matter what you face,” Tiffany said.
In Kyle’s first game kicking field goals for Notre Dame, he booted the game-winner in the closing seconds against Purdue. In his final college game, he kicked a field goal to beat LSU in the Music City Bowl. It had been Joe’s dream to see Kyle run out of the tunnel for a game at Notre Dame Stadium.
That part never happened. Joe Brindza was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in February 2011 and was gone five months later. Kyle entered Notre Dame early, and Joe did see him in the spring game, but that was it. Tiffany came to get Kyle at Notre Dame near the end and they drove to Nashville. He spent a few minutes alone with his grandfather.
“I told him what he meant to me and what he taught me,” Kyle said. “Every time I look in the mirror, I see that tattoo on my chest. That’s the guy who raised me, the man who taught me everything.
“Every time he would come visit me or talk to me on the phone, the last thing he’d always say is, ‘Love you, kid. Be a gentleman.’ ”
Kyle placed his Plymouth High jersey and a Notre Dame practice jersey in his grandfather’s casket. He added another tattoo, on his back.
Forever Will Be Kept.
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Kyle Brindza says the longest field goal he ever made was 74 yards, in a Notre Dame practice. In his first preseason game with the Bucs, after coming over in a trade from Detroit, he kicked a 58-yarder against Miami. Then there was last Sunday in New Orleans.
“I’m blessed to be where I am today, and a lot of it is because of God,” Brindza said. “His plan was for me to overcome all these odds and adversity.”
He wants to kick it forward. He has worked with children at Shriners Hospitals. He’d like to do more, what with Shriners International Headquarters being in Tampa.
“I want to get something set up here,” Brindza said. “I’d tell the kids, you’re able to fight anything. No matter what they tell you — that you can’t do this, you can’t do that — you can do anything. Don’t be cautious, because being cautious forces you away from things. I was never cautious. I was going to do it.”