Jim Harbaugh frequently preaches a “no job is safe” mentality, playing up competitions for starting spots, even at positions where that role is all but determined by the start of spring practice.
But if there’s one player who hasn’t really faced a true positional battle in his time at Michigan, it’s redshirt junior kicker Quinn Nordin. For a season and a half, the job was his and it wasn’t really a question.
Now, though? He’s locked in a bona fide battle with sophomore Jake Moody, a battle Harbaugh called “neck and neck” on April 3.
“It’s not what you want (if you’re Nordin),” said safeties and special teams coach Chris Partridge on Thursday. “It’s not what anyone asked for. But he’s gotten adverse situations, he looked it in the eyes and come in and he’s competed. He hasn’t backed down from it.”
Nordin was as hyped as a kicker recruit can be — an in-state kid who was the No. 1 player at his position in the country, a player Harbaugh famously wanted so much that he slept over at Nordin’s house in an effort to secure his commitment.
The sleepover worked, but the rest hasn’t gone according to plan. Nordin redshirted in 2016, and going into 2017, the job was his. Crystal clear. There was no competition, no one else who even attempted a single field goal the entire season.
He made 19-of-24 that year and his inconsistency was on full display. He hit a 55-yarder in the season opener, but during a four-game stretch in October and November, he missed four straight kicks and two extra points. It was the kind of performance that inspired eyerolls, declarations of “college kickers!” and a video of Harbaugh in a shouting match with Nordin on the sidelines — not one expected from a onetime No. 1 recruit.
In 2018, the job was once again handed to Nordin. But the performance only got worse. He was just 11-for-16 on field goals and notably missed two in a win over Wisconsin. Two weeks later, against Indiana, Nordin was reported out with an undisclosed illness. Moody trotted out in his place.
The rest is history. Moody made six field goals — a program record no one saw coming — that saved the game. Even with Michigan facing its two biggest games of the season, Nordin didn’t attempt another kick the rest of the way. Instead, Moody took the reins and performed well against Ohio State and Florida.
Nordin, meanwhile, sat on the sidelines, his job in jeopardy due to a freshman who — like most kickers — nobody had heard of going in. Nordin was just another kicker, albeit one with a prominent sleepover anecdote to his name.
Now, if Nordin wants his job back, he’ll have to truly beat Moody rather than coasting on the hype that once surrounded him.
“He’s gotta grow and understand that that’s what this world is,” Partridge said. “We had conversations about, you wanna kick, you’ve got the ability to kick further in your career and go to the NFL, well, they’re constantly gonna bring in people to compete and beat you out and this is how you have to handle it.”
It would be easy for Nordin and Moody to treat the competition as a zero-sum game — and subsequently feel resentment toward each other. But that’s not how it’s been. The two are friends, working out together and encouraging each other every step of the way.
Both also recognize the benefits of the battle, because ultimately, knowing that they truly have to earn their job makes each one better. According to Partridge, each has missed two or three field goals in practice — with Nordin hitting a few deeper ones, but nothing enough to create separation.
And for Nordin especially, perhaps this was just what he needed. Amid the uncertainty, he’s found a maturity that wasn’t present before.
“He’s just putting everything on himself and attacking the football and not really thinking about his leg swing as much and just relying on what he’s coached and what he does,” Partridge said. “He tends to overthink sometimes. I think his maturity has helped him not do that. … He’s really matured from (the competition) and handled it a really, really good way.”
In all likelihood, there won’t be any clarity as to the winner of that competition until one trots out on the field Aug. 31 against Middle Tennessee State. And even then, the one who does win will come in knowing that if he performs poorly, it’s his job to lose.
But with both Nordin and Moody performing well in spring ball — even getting a nod from Partridge as “two of the best kickers around” — perhaps this is a validation of Harbaugh’s philosophy. No job is safe, and both are better players because of it.
“They both go out there and compete every single day,” said junior defensive back Brad Hawkins. “They both go out there and be the best players that they can be for this football team, so they’re both doing what they do best. Just kicking the ball and competing against each other.”