Folk ways: Keeping it simple and focused
Nick Folk never really heard the fans.
In theory, he knew it was loud when he walked out on the field Monday in Atlanta to kick what would be his second game-winner of the season for the Jets. Yet it registered as meaningless white noise.
Folk didn't think about the 70,000-plus people screaming for him to miss. Nor did he think about the millions watching the game on "Monday Night Football" and what making this kick might mean for them and for his Jets team.
No, Folk doesn't believe in thinking all that much when he has a job to do. He likes to empty his head and rely on routine, no matter whether he's going for an extra point or trying to win the Jets' biggest game of the season. And so he turned to holder Ryan Quigley, nodded and said the same thing he always says before walking out on the field:
"Put it down. I'll kick it."
It's a simple, can-do phrase. And it sums up Folk nicely, explaining why he was nicknamed "The Iceman'' at the University of Arizona.
By concentrating on his mechanics -- by boiling down the job to its essence -- Folk has been able to block out pressure that would crack a less-composed competitor. He not only has kicked six game-winners in three-plus seasons with the Jets but also has fended off challenges from four veteran NFL kickers whom the team has brought in to push him.
"He's pretty even-keeled. He's really about as focused as you can get," said Quigley, who joined the team this year. "I've never seen him flustered."
Neither have his family members, who know a thing or two about performing under pressure.
Folk comes from a family of doctors in Los Angeles. His grandfather was a world-class thoracic surgeon and a pioneer in heart bypass surgery. His grandmother was an anesthesiologist and his mother is a pediatrician.
Folk has talked with all of them, especially his grandfather, about the stresses they have faced in their jobs. Folk's conclusion: By comparison, his profession is fairly stress-free.
"My grandfather has played with life and death his entire life," Folk said. "If he doesn't do something right, someone could die on the operating table. If I do something wrong, no one dies.
"It's a way to keep things in perspective. I think remembering that helps me have fun, stay relaxed and keep doing it at a high level."
Still, even in a family of doctors, Folk's calm, cool demeanor is legendary. His mother, Kathryn Folk, recalled in a phone interview last week that while in eighth grade, her oldest son broke his arm jumping on a trampoline right before a big soccer tournament and the start of his first high school football season. His family thought he would have to sit out both, but Folk had different ideas.
"He took the whole thing in stride. He wasn't going to let it stop him," she remembered. "He wrapped up the cast and talked them into letting him play in the tournament with a broken arm. When he went to football camp, they said he couldn't do anything with a broken arm, and he talked them into letting him kick."
Put it down. He'll kick it.
The broken arm ended up being a blessing. When the cast came off, Folk's high school coach at Sherman Oaks (Calif.) Notre Dame wanted him to play another position, too. By then, however, he had seen the advantages of concentrating on his kicking.
"He told them, 'I'm a kicker,' and that was it," his mother said.
That calm confidence continues to be Folk's calling card today. In his tenure, the Jets have brought in four kickers -- two this season -- and given them a chance to take away Folk's job. All of them currently are kicking for other NFL teams. Nick Novak (2011) is with the Chargers. Josh Brown (2012) is with the Giants. Billy Cundiff (this summer) is with the Browns. Dan Carpenter, who was brought in for the final 2013 preseason game after Folk missed a field goal in the third preseason game against the Giants, is with the Bills.
"Some guys, when another kicker comes in, they take offense to it," Quigley said. "I think he embraced it. He thought it was going to make him better."
Through five games, Folk is 11-for-11. In addition to his big kick against Atlanta, he nailed a 48-yard field goal for an 18-17 victory over Tampa Bay in Week 1.
Jets special teams coordinator Ben Kotwica said there seems to be something about Folk's makeup that makes him rise to the occasion in late-game situations.
"If there's a part in the DNA, I think he's got it," Kotwica said. "There's a poise and confidence about him when he carries himself that I think guys respect and they see. He's been able to get it done."
Put it down. He'll kick it.