Harrison Mevis has a notebook of “kicking commandments,” and the Missouri kicker reads his scripture every day.
Repetition reigns supreme in his world. The commandments are simple in design and have the intention of making kicking exactly that: simple. And, more importantly, repeatable.
The need for routine can be found in every corner of his life. Mevis needs to know where his wallet and keys are before he leaves his room. If his shoes aren’t tied tight enough — he really likes them tight — he won’t cross the sideline until that’s fixed.
Whether it’s the football field, in school or at his condo, Mevis reckons he’s “pretty organized.” That’s what Warsaw Community High School kicking coach Cole Richards would hail as a prime example of the kicker’s “default humbleness.”
The first physical action of the routine, per the commandments, is focused on perfect lines. He takes three straight steps back from the holder — right foot, left foot, right foot — and then brings his arm up perpendicular to the bottom goal post. It’s outstretched and stiff as a plank. His fingers are an extension of the extremity, pointed between the faraway poles like a bloodhound’s nose. The makeshift aiming device begins low, directly in front of his planted feet, and then lashes up, momentarily stopping above his head — fingers tracing the trajectory of the ball, eyes following the fingers. Then the arm comes back down on the line it raised up on.
Mevis credits Richards and his brother, Andrew Mevis, a kicker for Iowa State, for the introduction of routine to his game.
Richards has been nurturing that attention to detail since the pair met when Mevis was in seventh grade. His head coach in high school, Bart Curtis, noticed how detail-oriented he was almost immediately after meeting him.
Curtis said Mevis had to know where his football bags and tees were at every moment of practice. He said the kicker “had his own little corner of the locker room,” and it was probably the cleanest one in the building.
“They’ll (Harrison and Andrew) analyze everything in the nth degree,” Richards said. “That makes them really good at their craft because they can do that, and they’ve always done that.”
It didn’t go anywhere when Mevis arrived at Missouri.
“I think he’s just extremely focused,” said Grant McKinniss, the Tigers’ punter and often the holder when Mevis comes out to kick. “When I’m going on the field and I look back at him, like when I’m about to hold, I just look at him, and it’s like he’s looking through me. The dude is so locked in.”
He’s so locked in that at times it has left Richards on the verge of speechlessness.
In Mevis’ senior year, Warsaw found itself two points behind with two minutes remaining against Michigan City, a perennial local powerhouse. What Curtis called a “fourth and forever” brought up a field-goal attempt from 52 yards out. His kicking coach was confident, so it was Mevis’ turn.
That confidence was repaid — Mevis comfortably converted.
Curtis remembers a ball boy catching the attempt about 8 yards behind the crossbar. He said the kick would have been good from 60.
But Mevis had his hyper-focused attention on something else, something obscure.
“The funniest thing about it was that he’s so detail-oriented, he noticed a praying mantis on the field that was walking across in front of his holder before he made that 52-yard field goal,” Richards said. “He’s like, ‘Coach, there’s a praying mantis out there on the field.’ Like, what are you talking about? He’s like, ‘Yeah, it’s right out there in front of the spot where I kicked the ball.’”
The second commandment requires two more steps, these as wide as he can and to his left — creating a perfect 90-degree angle to the ball. The angle has to be right, because that’s the other vital 50% to the routine. Mevis calls these the “perfect steps.” He’s the same distance back and the same distance across every single time.
“If that’s good,” Mevis said, “then I know it’s going to be good.”
He’s practiced his routine thousands of times, because it’s something that Richards has preached for years.
“Look at your best athletes, look at your best NBA free-throwers, they shoot the same pre-shot routine when they shoot a free throw. Look at your best golfers, they all do the same thing, regardless.” Richards said. … “It doesn’t matter if it’s an extra point, it doesn’t matter if it’s a 56-yard field goal to win the game.”
It came naturally to Mevis because, like his brother, he’s practice- and analytics-obsessed.
Richards said the brothers spend, conservatively, 315 to 320 days a year practicing. When they’re back in town, Richards often finds himself shoveling snow off of one spot on the local field in Warsaw just so they can get more reps in.
He said that they’ll blow up his phone following their games, one gloating about beating the other’s season-long field goal or congratulating the other on yet another successful week.
But before long, they’re off on an analytical tangent.
“They absolutely love it. They live for it,” Richards said. “They’re comparing the best guys to what they’re doing, they’re looking at their form, looking at their adjustments. The first thing they said about Justin Tucker this weekend — the (66-yard field goal) that broke the NFL record — they said, ‘Oh, he changed his steps.’ Like, ‘Oh, he hopped into that to give him a little bit extra.’ They just love it. They eat it up.”
The kicking commandments dictate three things for the final seconds, or final fractions of seconds: head down, swing through instead of across, explode the hips. The most important part? It’s certainly the most active. But for Mevis, it’s just a byproduct of the routine that came before it.
The routine crescendos at the moment his foot makes contact with the ball.
Just like everything that precedes that moment, there is a reason for every step and every movement — or the lack thereof.
“Keep the head down, because if you look up, you tend to swing across it and miss it high left,” Mevis said. “Or if you’re not looking at the ball, you’ll kind of toe it and you’ll hit it right. Head down, be confident. Straight follow-through. When I’m kicking, I try to get downfield a little bit more and try to make sure my swing is not across, because, again, I will come across it and I will push it left or right.”
Curtis is in his fourth season as the Warsaw coach but has been a head coach for 31 years. He’s “been around the block a few times,” he said, but has “never seen anything like Harrison.”
He knew he had a “pretty good kicker” soon after arriving and appreciates the time he spent with a player he called “highly organized in thought and action,” who had “a plan for everything” and was a “joy to coach.”
Mevis is always focused on the task at hand. And that, to Curtis’ surprise, extended to doing what he was told, no matter what.
During Curtis’ first summer workout, which kicked off Mevis’ junior year, the new coach lined his players up by size and sent them off to do drills in their respective units.
“Where’s Mevis?” Richards asked after some time elapsed.
Curtis didn’t know.
But Warsaw’s offensive line coach did. The 5-foot-11, 236-pound Mevis had been doing his drills for the first half of practice.
Mevis never said a word until he was extracted and sent back to special teams at his coach’s behest — back to where he belonged. He just kept going through the assigned drills.
The final commandment takes the longest. It’s always happening. As he’s jogging onto the field, Mevis focuses on clearing his mind — a process that begins as early as the moment Missouri’s possession hits third down. He’s perpetually preparing mentally, letting muscle memory take over.
“He’s so focused on the things that matter to him, not the things he can’t control,” Richards said. ... “As the kicker, you’re in control of very little besides your foot to the ball. The best kickers can process away all of these things that are surrounding them and focus on the little tiny things they can control to get the ball through the upright.”
Mental routine and physical routine are the hands that feed each other. Mevis can’t have one without the other. Muscle memory only takes over when all the other parts have been fulfilled.
One of the things they can control is who they enter the field with. For Mevis, that’s McKinniss, whom he called “the ultimate caddy.”
“I try to just keep him locked in on the game, in a way,” McKinniss said, “just kinda look when we are crossing the 50, see if he is ready. Kind of call him over and be like, ‘All right, what are you thinking?’ and kind of get him mentally prepared for that specific kick.”
Invariably — or more specifically 22 of 25 field-goal attempts and all 48 PATs in his MU career — the commandments work for Mevis, and the officials do their best impressions of the yellow poles above them.
“That’s something that sets (Mevis and his brother) apart,” Richards said. “They’re very, very good at basically blocking things off. It’s like compartmentalization. They can very much focus on the little tiny details of things that matter a lot.”
So when Mevis takes the field, moving to the right hash of the 46-yard line against Boston College with Missouri down three with 3 seconds left on the game clock, he’s done it before.
It’s the same way he came onto the field against Arkansas for the 32-yarder to win the game Dec. 6 last season. And against Michigan City for a 52-yarder. Likewise with all of his PATs earlier in the game against BC.
Mevis rarely is more than an arm’s length from McKinniss. They arrive at their mark. His trusted holder takes a knee, and Mevis is almost on top of his left shoulder. He’s been working on clearing his mind for more than a full down at this point.
Three steps back. Arm up, arm down. Two steps to the left. Three steps forward. Head down. Swing straight. Explode with the hips.
The ball starts just outside the right-hand post, but it’s turning left — left enough to now be between the poles. Does it have the length?
Ask the ball boy behind the upright or the praying mantis on the field in Michigan City.