By Lindsay Applebaum
Wednesday, October 11, 2006 1:50 PM
When Nick Novak found out that he'd been selected as the Washington Redskins' replacement for injured place kicker John Hall yesterday, he was still getting over the fact that he'd even gotten a call to try out.
"I honestly had no idea [Hall] was hurt or even struggling," said Novak, 25, who competed with four other kickers for the spot. "I didn't even watch the game."
In fact, Novak, a 2004 graduate of the University of Maryland, hasn't seen more than a few minutes of NFL football since the 2006 season started.
"At first, it was just hard to watch the games because I wished it were me out there," Novak said. "But then I also realized that it was pointless for me to sit around on my couch being lazy every Sunday when instead, I could be out practicing and making sure I'm just as good as the kickers who do have jobs."
After brief stints with the Redskins and Arizona Cardinals last season, Novak found himself back on the outside looking in -- unemployed and living with his parents in Lafayette, Ind. In a job market with only 32 positions available, all Novak could do was play the waiting game until he got his shot.
"I need a team to take a chance on me," Novak had said. "I just want a team to say, 'You're the guy. Run with it.'"
On Sept.13, 2005, the Redskins signed Novak, the ACC's all-time leading scorer, to give veteran kicker Hall some time to recover from a strained quadriceps muscle. Novak then made headlines in Washington on Oct. 2 when he booted home the game-winning field goal in a 20-17 overtime victory over the Seattle Seahawks. Novak played in five games for the Redskins, but when Hall was healthy again, Coach Joe Gibbs decided to stick with Hall, who had signed a five-year contract worth $7.13 million.
"The local connection with the Redskins and Maryland was great," said Novak, who grew up in Charlottesville, Va. "I knew I was filling in for [Hall], so I wasn't too disappointed to be released. And I was told I'd be the first one they'd call if anything came up, which they did."
The Cardinals signed Novak on Dec. 3, after Pro Bowl kicker Neil Rackers tore his left calf muscle in practice. Novak played in three games with the Cardinals. Although Rackers returned earlier than expected, the Cardinals kept Novak on the roster until Aug. 30.
"It was pretty much for insurance purposes," said Chad Wiestling, Novak's agent. "In case anything happened to Neil Rackers, they'd have a great kicker to fall back on. Unfortunately, a young guy like Nick didn't have much of a shot replacing a Pro Bowl kicker long-term."
Until yesterday, Novak had yet to find a permanent kicking job. He spent time in camp this summer with the Green Bay Packers and the New Orleans Saints, but neither team signed him.
"I joke with Nick that he may as well be holding a sign that says 'Kicker for Hire,'" said Wiestling. "So far, he's been the go-to guy for teams who need replacements."
For Novak, who has been practicing as if he were on an active roster, adjusting to his new life with the Redskins will be a breeze. He's been working out daily, taking only Tuesdays off from kicking to run sprints and lift weights. Novak's parents, Bob and Julie, are both professors at the nearby Purdue University, which helped Novak gain full access to the campus facilities.
Novak just happened to have gotten into town on Sunday. He'd planned to hang around Maryland for a while, visiting his alma mater and practicing with an old kicking coach, Paul Woodside.
"Something really great happened on Sunday," said Novak, sounding even more excited than he was about his new job. "I was practicing with [Woodside] and a high school kicker was also with us. This kid told me he'd been following my career since I was at Maryland and modeled his kicking after mine. I mean, I've looked up to players like [New Orleans Saints kicker] John Carney and [Cincinnati Bengals kicker] Shayne Graham. And I just can't believe someone feels that way about me."
Although Novak and his agent can still joke that he remains a 'kicker for hire,' filling in for injured players, Novak is living in the moment and grateful to be kicking in the NFL again.
"Kicking is my passion," said Novak. "And now the cards are all in place."