Matt Ladach always thought a 60-yarder was possible. He just never got the chance to find out.
The varsity coach of Northville High School had Jake Moody as his kicker for a four year stretch starting in 2015. Moody — now a graduate student for the No. 4 Michigan football team — could hit from beyond 60 in practice, and was ready for the opportunity if it ever emerged.
“We knew anytime that we got beyond the 50-yard line that we had an opportunity to score,” Ladach told The Daily. “He was a weapon, an absolute weapon.”
College kickers don’t usually receive that kind of praise. They are more often in the news for the wrong reasons, drawing the ire of fans for missing extra points or chip-shot field goals. In large part, they are more synonymous with memes than reliability.
Moody, though, is not a typical college kicker. He wasn’t a typical high school one either.
Ladach knew when he first met Moody in 8th grade that he had a talented player on his hands, but he didn’t know where to put him. After taking some reps at receiver for the junior varsity team, Moody proved he was too good to keep off the varsity roster — but most of the skill positions already had established starters.
However, there was one position that had an opening. And from the moment Moody took over, it was clear early on the Mustangs would be set for a while.
“If Jake wasn’t such a good kicker, he would have been playing as an athlete on the field,” Ladach said. “He’s a talented young man. He’s an athletic person. … He’s not a traditional kicker.”
Moody breaks the mold in many ways. Even as a high school freshman, he quickly won over his teammates with his willingness to take on the kicker role, not normally a position that comes with a lot of clout.
Additionally, he possessed a rare trait as a high school kicker — he was Northville’s emergency third string quarterback. He never made it into a game, but he did serve as the scout team quarterback in practice, wearing the red jersey and all. It wasn’t just a gimmick, he had the arm strength to do it.
And at times, he could put that strength on full display.
Moody was also a two-year varsity player for the baseball team, playing third base and throwing in the low 80s from the mound. His presence was also felt from the plate, where he batted in the five hole as a career .300 hitter.
His athleticism allowed him to excel as a two-sport athlete, a term not usually thrown around for a kicker.
And while it may not be obvious on the surface, baseball was equally responsible for helping Moody develop the consistency and mental fortitude he needed to succeed.
“(Hitting) and kicking field goals are very similar from that mental component,” Northville baseball coach John Kostrzewa told The Daily. “If you strike out with the bases loaded, you gotta eat that for a while and if you miss a field goal, you gotta eat it for a while until you get your next opportunity to make up for it.
“You have to be really mentally strong and be prepared when that next chance comes up and not let the previous failure impact what you’re attempting to do.”
That short term memory was key for Moody’s success on the gridiron. He made 39-of-53 career attempts, including five kicks over 50 yards — a rarity for high school kickers.
His kicking accuracy was a weapon. But he was also an asset to the coaching staff in a more discrete way.
Moody never needed to be coached.
He never struggled with balancing two sports, always making it to Kostrzewa’s 5:45 a.m. lift sessions or finding time to work with former kickers at Northville to soak up information. He never needed to be pushed, always making time to practice kicks on his own to help extend his range.
“I never coached Jake,” Ladach said. “The only coaching I ever gave to Jake was, ‘Jake put it between the uprights.’ I can’t take any credit at all for anything he did.”
Since coming to Michigan, that independence has translated. Now in his fifth year with the program, he and graduate punter Brad Robbins practice completely autonomously. Instead of being coached up, they’re observing, coming to the coaching staff with advice if something in practice isn’t working.
“They’re super mature with tons of experience,” Michigan special teams and tight ends coach Jay Harbaugh said. “They have a great self awareness of who they are, what they need and what their rhythm is.”
Robbins and Moody have a tight relationship, bonded by their responsibility to anchor the special teams. They may not be learning route concepts or blocking schemes — although Moody jokes that he still wants a shot at quarterback — but formidable punting and kicking puts the Wolverines in a better position to win.
Robbins considers himself the more outgoing one, a social butterfly who constantly checks in on everyone’s needs. Moody does the opposite, but that’s far from an issue.
“He’s more of the quiet guy,” Robbins said. “But he is so consistent, and does so well at executing and doing his job that — because of that quietness that he has — when he talks everybody wants to listen because what he says matters.”
Moody’s presence isn’t overwhelming but his teammates still feed off him. And it’s been that way for a while.
Kostrzewa recalled a point in the middle of the 2017 baseball season when the team was struggling. He wanted to hold a more lighthearted competition to refocus his team, so he found a deflated soccer ball and made up a game: If Kostrezewa kicked it farther, the team would run sprints. If a player kicked it farther, they wouldn’t.
Naturally, Moody made sure his teammates were exempt.
“It was actually very impactful because as soon as he beat me the team went nuts,” Kostrzewa said. “They were high fiving and running around the outfield, and it was just a great moment because we were trying to get back to why we play. … We really got on a roll, ironically, after that.”
The team did get on a roll, making a run all the way to the state championship game — the school’s first appearance since 1972. The tournament also gave Moody a chance to play in a pressurized atmosphere, with packed stands setting the backdrop. Moody never flinched, going 1-2 with two walks in the final and serving as a rock in the middle of the lineup throughout the tournament.
That refusal to wilt under pressure was paramount for the Wolverines last season as well.
He was as good as automatic, going 23-for-25 on field goals and scoring 125 total points — the highest scoring season by a kicker in program history. Moody was able to maintain his steadiness, even in the toughest of conditions.
His steeliness was melded in an October matchup against Nebraska, when Michigan’s drives kept stalling out. Plunged into a hostile sea of red, Moody drilled all four of his kicks, including the game winning 39-yarder with 21 seconds left. Moody’s calmness turned questions of whether he could deliver on those field goals into an afterthought.
“Less is more for me personally,” Moody said. “I found that when I’m just going out there and having a good time, not stressing over every single kick, just going out there doing what I love doing, that’s when I’m at my best.”
His best was unmatched in 2021 as he won the Lou Groza award, given to the top college kicker each year. After choosing to exercise his COVID eligibility, he was named as an AP Preseason All-American — Michigan’s only representative in that lineup.
He’s emerged as, arguably, the best kicker in college football, with the portfolio to win that debate.
But with the level-headedness only a kicker possesses, all Moody is focused on is what’s next.
“I could win whatever award last year,” Moody said. “If I go out this year and go 50%, no one’s gonna care who I am.”
Fortunately for Moody, it appears none of the Michigan fan base will forget his name anytime soon. He’s perfect on field goals so far, making all three attempts in the season opener against Colorado State and drilling every extra point against Hawaii.
In that opener, after warmups ended, every single player departed for the tunnel. Every single player but one.
Moody stood alone at the 35-yard line, working on kickoffs until he felt satisfied to leave the field.
“Kickers are alone a lot,” Kostrzewa said. “They’re doing their own thing. And it takes a lot of discipline to become a really good field goal kicker. Not just the physical discipline, but the mental component.”
It’s repetitions. It’s never getting too caught up in any single moment. That’s the mental toughness it takes to be a kicker.
When you combine that with a player who’s athletic enough to play third base or quarterback, and never needs to be given any extra motivation, you get an elite kicker.
You get Jake Moody.