Less than 24 hours before he became the nation’s leader in punting, Nathan Renfro had no idea. Locked in a battle with preseason roommate and Australian import Brad Craddock throughout the fall, Renfro was milling about on the afternoon of Aug. 31 — one day before Maryland’s season opener — when Terps special teams coordinator Andre Powell broke the news around 5 p.m.:
You’re starting against William & Mary. Be ready.
“I guess it was good he didn’t give me much time to think about it,” said Renfro, a redshirt freshman. “I just went out there and kicked.”
Renfro booted his way to an FBS-best 53-yard average after college football’s first weekend, including a 57-yarder that dropped on a dime inside the Tribe red zone, flirted with the goal line and finally settled on the 2-yard line. That came with 2 minutes 17 seconds left, the Terps clinging to a 7-6 lead. Five plays later, Demetrius Hartsfield pounced on a fumble and sealed the win.
Renfro started punting at Brentwood Academy in Tennessee because it was the fastest way onto the field. He gave up collegiate aspirations of playing baseball, chose Maryland and redshirted his freshman season in College Park, learning from Nick Ferrara, biding his time.
And when he finally lined up deep at Byrd Stadium, staring down the onslaught of Tribe punt-blockers, Renfro somehow found the opportunity more calming than those battles with Craddock back at practice.
“For some reason I was more relaxed in the game,” Renfro said. “It’s less nerve-wracking punting on the field in the game than in practice, when Coach is standing right behind you with a stopwatch. I guess I was able to relax more in a game, so that’s what helped out. “
Kicking, perhaps more so than most other positions, necessitates intense mental focus. Take a step one inch too long, and it can mess everything up. Head clear, pressure-free, concentrating on his drops and steps, Renfro delivered, in his words, the best game he’s ever had.
“It's all about repetition,” Coach Randy Edsall said. “Repetition is the mother of learning, we just have to keep up the reps. But now that Nate put it on film, we expect that out of him all the time so we want to keep him at that high standard.”
During camp, the competition with Craddock was more amiable than anything. They lived together, Renfro explaining the nuances of American football, Craddock telling stories about how koalas live in trees outside his house in Australia.
“It’s more of a friendly competition, because he’ll see me hit a good punt so he’ll want to hit one, too,” Renfro said. “The competition just helps both of us out. There’s no hard feelings either way.
“Everyone likes him. Just a real outgoing guy. It’s hard not to like him.”
Not much to dislike about Renfro’s debut either.