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The Terps' Can't-Miss Kid

Place Kicker Novak May Not Be Perfect, but Don't Tell Him That

By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 25, 2004; Page H04

Remember the three extra-point attempts Nick Novak missed toward the end of last season? The ones in which he lifted his toe too soon? Two came in the regular season finale against Wake Forest, one came against North Carolina State.

Novak, Maryland's senior place kicker, draws a blank.


"He's a perfectionist," Ralph Friedgen said of Nick Novak, above, who has missed 21 of 85 field goal attempts but is 100 points from NCAA record. "He takes pride in whatever he does." (Tracy A. Woodward -- The Washington Post)

___College Football Preview '04___
Adding Miami and Virginia Tech will help turn the ACC into a football powerhouse.
Quarterbacks Brock Berlin (Miami) and Chris Rix (Florida State) will have a major impact on the ACC.

_____Area Colleges_____
 Terps
Place kicker Nick Novak, pictured, is the Terrapins' can't-miss kid.
Tight end Heath Miller plays a pivotal role in Cavaliers' offensive attack.
Hokies' linebacker Chad Cooper has battled back from illness.
Fullback Kyle Eckel leads the Midshipmen's potent running game.
A once-depleted backfield is now restored for the Bison.
Hoyas' lineman Brandon Small shines on the field, and on stage.

_____Other Conferences_____
Big East: Without Virginia Tech and Miami, West Virginia is the favorite.
Big Ten: The conference decides to use instant replay for one year.
Big 12: Kansas State running back Darren Sproles is a leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy.
Pac-10: Despite some offseason snags, Southern Cal is expected to be a force again.
SEC: Both quarterbacks return for Georgia, while three other powers have to replace their signal callers.


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"No, I don't remember missing," Novak said. "When someone brings it up, I disregard it because I do not remember. A lot of people you talk to, especially golfers, will say they don't remember missing a three-footer because in their minds they made it."

In his mind, Novak has made every kick he has ever attempted. Truth be told, he's missed 21 of 85 field goal attempts during his three-year Maryland career, but don't tell him that. His approach illustrates the psychology of not merely any college kicker, but an elite one, perhaps the best in the country.

"He's a perfectionist," Coach Ralph Friedgen said. "He takes pride in whatever he does. It would be nice to see Nick be one of the outstanding kickers in the country this year and have the opportunity to win the Lou Groza Award."

By kicking one field goal against Northern Illinois on Sept. 4, Novak will break the ACC's career scoring mark. He needs 100 points -- a feat he's accomplished the past two seasons -- to top the NCAA record of 423 points set by Houston's Roman Anderson from 1988 to '91.

And he isn't thinking about those records either. The mentality of blocking out the past as well as the future has been effective for Novak, if a little odd to some teammates.

"That's why I'm not a kicker," said center Kyle Schmitt, chuckling. "As an offensive lineman, you're watching every play, watching every technique. I don't even try to get into the mind of a kicker. They are their own people on the team and even in public. They are really unique guys. I try to stay away from that."

Novak is so respected by his teammates that he was one of 12 players selected last year to serve on the Terps' leadership council. Talk to him about the mentality of kicking, and he will repeatedly speak of confidence.

But confidence was something Novak struggled with as a redshirt freshman in 2001 during Friedgen's first season in College Park. The game that changed his season, perhaps even his career, came on a nationally televised Thursday night game against Georgia Tech on ESPN.

He compensated for a high snap and kicked a 46-yard field goal at the end of regulation to force overtime. Until then, Novak's career-long kick had been 33 yards. He then made a 26-yard game-winner in overtime to give Maryland its sixth straight victory and Novak the first of three career game-winning kicks.

Asked how high his confidence is now, Novak said, "Very high, because I worked all summer." He attended two camps with some of the best kickers in the country.

But now he faces one of his toughest annual challenges: training camp under Friedgen. In the spring, Novak told Friedgen, "You haven't put me under pressure."

"Right there," Friedgen answered. "You're thinking about it. You never know when it's coming."

When Friedgen chooses to apply pressure, it usually comes in one of two forms. On some occasions in practice, Friedgen simply stands behind Novak while he is kicking. "I used to feel his presence, but not anymore," Novak said.

At other times, Friedgen will call Novak on the field for a field goal attempt during a two-minute drill in practice. "Make it, you're the hero," Friedgen will say. "Miss it, the whole team runs -- 105 players."

The practice routine helps prepare Novak for situations such as the 2001 Georgia Tech comeback or the game against North Carolina State in 2002, when Novak kicked a 26-yard game-winning field goal with 34 seconds remaining.

Perhaps most dramatic, though, was the Terps' rally against the Wolfpack last November before a hostile Carter-Finley Stadium crowd. Maryland came back from a two-touchdown deficit to score a touchdown and pull within a point with less than three minutes to play -- but Novak missed the ensuing extra point.

After a fumble recovery gave the offense one final opportunity, Novak got a shot at redemption. Finally, with 23 seconds remaining, a Gator Bowl berth likely at stake, Novak made the game-winning 43-yard field goal.

His routine is always the same, regardless of whether it's practice or the waning second of an ACC game: Deep breath. Don't think of mechanics. Don't think of much. Pinpoint a target. Trust the holder and snapper. Keep your head in place. Follow through.

"It's nice to know, when you are coming down to the end of the game," Schmitt said, "that we have one of the best kickers in the country, if not the best."


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