John Carney's kicking career began in grade school and continues to this day. After high school at West Palm Beach, college at Notre Dame, and 22 years of traversing the United States in the NFL, it might be reasonable for the public to assume that Carney long ago perfected his craft. But at age 46, his kicking game continues to evolve. We recently spoke with John and discussed his journey and the never ending learning process.
What is your earliest recollection of kicking a ball of any kind?
"Probably in fifth grade at neighbor friend of mine. He joined a soccer league and needed someone to kick a ball back and forth with. I thought it was sport that I was not interested in, but I kicked it back and forth with him just to be a good friend. We kicked up and down the street for a long time during his soccer season. By the end of the season I decided ‘hey, this is pretty fun’, and I joined a soccer team."
How did you then transition from soccer over to football?
"I went to Cardinal Newman High School in West Palm Beach Florida. We had a very rich tradition for our football program. It was led by coach Sam Budnyk, who ended up coaching over 35 years and retired as one of the winningest high school football coaches in the state of Florida. So it was more or less a rite of passage for the boys at that school to go through the football program. I thought I’d be a wide receiver, but sitting on the bench as a wide receiver wasn’t that much fun. I felt like guys punting and kicking the football, but they were football guys and not soccer guys. I felt I could kick a soccer ball, so I went home and worked on kicking a football. I actually went to a Garo Yepremian Soccer and Kicking Camp (to date myself) and learned some more about kicking a football from “the” Garo Yepremian. I ended playing JV my sophomore year and varsity my junior and senior years as a placekicker and a punter."
During your younger kicking days, was there anyone in particular that served as a role model, mentor, or inspiration to you?
"In high school there were two. One was Uwe von Schamann, who was the kicker for the Miami Dolphins at that time. In fact I had the nickname Uwe for awhile probably because every kid who kicked for their high school had the nickname of Uwe, because von Schamann who was down at Miami and came out of Oklahoma had a very nice pro career. Second was Danny Miller, who was an All-American at the University of Miami. I really, really admired what he accomplished as a placekicker. I sought out a kicking camp that he went to as a coach. I was excited to have an opportunity to go to that camp and work with Danny Miller, and get to meet with him and kick with him."
Is there anything you’ve learned during your pro career, that you wish you had known back during your college days at Notre Dame?
"Yea, just about everything. It’s a sport much like golf where you never stop learning. You never really stop adjusting and evolving your swing and your training to squeeze out more potential and to squeeze out more performance. So everything from training how to train during the season and the offseason, how to work out in the weight room and how not to work out in the weight room, how to recover faster by using the cold tanks in the training room, more rest, always improving the diet… all those things. Then the mental game as well - how to approach your preparation during the week, how to approach the game, and how to handle success and defeat. Again it’s a learning process that never stops."
Any advice you’d give to younger kickers regarding off-season conditioning and practicing?
"I believe they should really push themselves and train hard. I think they should involve the upper body training as well as the lower body, to be physically fit and strong throughout their entire body instead of just focusing on their legs and core. They should always be looking for new ways to get better. If your workouts are getting stale, if you’ve plateaued and you don’t seem to be improving, look for new training techniques and new routines to push yourself, get you off that plateau, and move you ahead once again. Most offseasons I will experiment at times with my kicking, onsides kicks or kickoffs. I’ll see something during the season that another kicker does that I think has been very successful; I’ll try to incorporate that in my kicking and see if that works for me. Sometimes you need to look at your shoes and your gear. What are you wearing on your feet as a kicker. Your shoes are your most important piece of equipment, and your helmet number two. If your wearing the wrong shoes, just like a golfer having the wrong club in hand, you’re not going to reach your potential. It’s very important that you take a good look at your shoes, speak with other kickers, and check out soccer stores. Don’t be locked into one product when maybe another product is going to fit you better."
Regarding the mental side of kicking, how do you get “in the zone” for a kick?
"I believe it starts with your preparation during the offseason, and then during the course of the week leading up to a game. If your preparation is good and you’ve had a solid week of practice, that builds your confidence. And your confidence is where getting into the zone starts from. When you’re hitting the ball, striking the ball well, and things are starting to feel second nature to you, and you’re not having to concentrate on too many swing thoughts at once - things are becoming second nature because of repetition and because of success in preparation, then you enter the zone. It doesn’t happen by mistake and it doesn’t happen by coincidence. It’s through preparation and success and repetition. It’s a wonderful place to be, but it’s hard to stay in the zone because our bodies change and we don’t always feel the same from week to week. Sometimes we have to manage an injury, or manage being sore, or what not. That’s when you go back to your check list and make sure you’re doing everything in your preparation that you have control over, to be ready to go on game day."
Is there anything someone said to you after a missed kick that you’ll never forget?
"I try not to listen to anybody [laughs]. I have things that I repeat to kickers as I coach them and consult with them, and they’ve probably been spoken to me and have kind of become my own words and philosophy. One is ‘if you haven’t missed an important kick you haven’t been kicking long enough’. It’s gonna happen. There are just too many variables to control yourself, and no matter how good you are and how prepared you are, eventually you’ll miss an important kick. That’s the nature of the kicking game. You have to be prepared for that situation because eventually it will happen and you have to work through it. You have to quickly correct whatever mistake – whether it was yours, or your team mates, or just the weather conditions – you have to identify what went wrong, correct it if you can correct it, and move forward. Through those experiences you become stronger kicker mentally. You’re better for it in the long run, but it is a difficult process to go through. Again, it’s the nature of the beast. You do your best to perform, you do your best to prepare, and correct past failures and move on. Once you correct the problem you have to have a short memory and move forward."
Name one thing about being a kicker that most people probably don’t realize.
"Most people probably don’t realize how much goes into a successful kick or punt in a game. If you have a successful kick or punt in a game, and you’re doing it on a weekly basis, that only occurs because you’ve prepared the week before, the month before, and the years before. You’ve prepared, you’ve studied, you’ve trained, you’ve examined your performances and made corrections, and you’ve continued to evolve your swing to where it’s successful for your body type. I think most people don’t realize how much preparation and hard work goes into a successful kick or a successful punt."
Stay tuned for part two of our Interview with John Carney, in which we focus on some specifics from his NFL career - including a high pressure steak dinner.
This interview sponsored by the National Combine Series.