With the exception of the offensive line, no element of football is more under-appreciated and not talked about enough than kicking- both field goals and PATs. Andre Szmyt’s tenure at Syracuse was a roller coaster. He won the Groza Award in 2018 only to stumble big time but bounce back last season. Szmyt is gone, so the Orange will have a new kicker for the first time in five years. Brady Denaburg is poised to take that role. Given the aforementioned importance of having a strong kicking game, let’s take a look at the new guy’s history (even though he isn’t a complete stranger to SU fans).
Denaburg is a native of Merritt Island, Florida about an hour east of Orlando. As a senior in high school he was a perfect 44-for-44 on PATs and 19-for-26 on field goal attempts. That FG% isn’t super impressive, but one of those makes was from 57 yards out. He also hit a 43-yarder with under a minute left to send his team to the state title game. Regardless of level, that is incredibly impressive and not easy. He also brings background as a quarterback, throwing for over 3,000 yards and 30 touchdowns en route to a 13-2 record as a senior. The odds Denaburg takes snaps under center for Dino Babers are less than zero, but if you want to incorporate some trickeration, that’s how you do it. To do it in Florida, where the high school football is very good, it says a lot about Denaburg’s dynamic. He’s got strong potential and could potentially help in ways unforeseen.
When he spoke to the media on Wednesday, Denaburg spoke about the adrenaline he’s going to feel when he steps onto the Dome field for his first kick. That being said, he has gotten an appetizer of it. Denaburg was the team’s kickoff specialist over Syracuse’s final 12 games, with 41 touchbacks and even two tackles in coverage. But there’s a big difference between booting it downfield with no pressure and putting a ball between the uprights with a sea of defenders trying to block your kick. Denaburg also mentioned being mentored by Szmyt over the course of last season, and weren’t as many kickers in college football with his experience level. With that in mind, you would have to think Denaburg would come in prepared, but nervous.
So what does Syracuse need from Denaburg? Simple. Stability. Consistency. Reaching Szmyt’s highs is going to be an extremely large ask, but seeing his lows again will be an extremely frustrating endeavor. Missing not one, but two chip-shots in the Virginia Tech game in ’21 was unacceptable, regardless of how the game ended. That being said, Denaburg is probably not going to win the Groza award, though it would be awesome if he did. We have no idea how long Denaburg will be the Orange’s kicker- it could be just this season, it could be three, heck worst case scenario he may be usurped before the season’s end. He will have a good tenure if he is dependable and consistent, which wasn’t always the case with Szmyt.
Typically, you notice bad special teams play a lot more than you do good. That’s partially why Szmyt’s struggles were arguably much more riveting than his Groza campaign as a freshman or his five made field goals against Virginia in ’22. Brady Denaburg’s play will be one of the more intriguing storylines this season, and it could go a long way toward SU’s success.