When Virginia Coach Al Groh and Maryland Coach Ralph Friedgen met on the Scott Stadium field before the Nov. 6 Maryland-Virginia game, Groh told Friedgen, "Your punter is definitely an all-American." Groh also asked whether Maryland punter Adam Podlesh had initially been given a scholarship as a freshman.
"I've done that," Groh said, "and the kid is playing left field for the baseball team."
That's not the case with Podlesh, who had been given a scholarship right away and has been anything but incidental for Maryland the past two years. This season, Podlesh's success has been one of the few positives in a year marred by an inconsistent offense that ranks 103rd nationally.
When Maryland's offense has failed, Podlesh often has pinned opponents back with booming kicks or directional attempts with pinpoint accuracy. Maryland ranks seventh nationally in net punting, and Podlesh is a semifinalist for the Ray Guy Award for the second straight year. The sophomore joins nine others on the list; a winner will be announced Dec. 9 on ESPN.
"He's like an extra offensive player for us," defensive end Shawne Merriman said. "Think of him throwing a long completion down the field with a good 50-yard punt."
Added center Kyle Schmitt: "He's a guy who is overlooked, I'm sure. Nobody usually looks at the punter, but he's a guy who's been very valuable to us."
Podlesh's performance will be particularly critical for Maryland on Thursday, when the Terps (4-5, 2-4) face No. 15 Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. The Hokies (7-2, 4-1) have defined their program under Coach Frank Beamer with strong special teams play, having entered this season with 101 blocked kicks in 201 games since 1987.
"We definitely know that they take a lot of pride in their special teams, especially blocks," Podlesh said. "We're not trying to change up anything. But we're trying to make sure that we're really sharp in what we do. But if everybody does well, then I think we're going to have a good special teams game against Virginia Tech."
Podlesh's preparation focuses on repetition and consistency. He said he doesn't think about his best or worst kicks. He doesn't necessarily look to improve each week as much as he attempts to fix small mistakes in his form. "It's almost like a golf swing," Podlesh said. "If something is a little bit wrong in your swing, you could start shanking it left or right."
Each day in practice, Maryland videotapes Podlesh's punts from field level and from above. "If I've done one thing right, I think this is one of the things I've done right his year," Friedgen said of the filming technique. "He studies it. A lot of kickers wouldn't bother looking at it. Every day he looks at it, and he gets so aggravated when he does not do it" right.
More often than not, Podlesh has done it right, dropping 38 percent of his punts inside the opponents' 20-yard line in two seasons. The punter from Pittsford, N.Y., has come a long way since studying under Terps all-American Brooks Barnard as a redshirt freshman and, Friedgen said, battling homesickness that spring.
Last year, Podlesh averaged 42.3 yards per kick, third-best in the ACC and best-ever for a Maryland freshman. This season he is better, averaging 44.5 yards per kick.
Podlesh had three punts of more than 50 yards in Maryland's 20-17 upset of then-No. 5 Florida State on Oct. 30. Against North Carolina State, Podlesh blasted a career-long 70-yard punt that was downed inside the Wolfpack 5. Distance alone, though, doesn't give Podlesh satisfaction.
"If I hit a 70-yarder and they return it 30 yards, that's not as big of a rush as if I hit a 40-yarder and put them on the one," Podlesh said. "That's a rush right there because that's something that will have an impact in the game."
Teammates say Podlesh is not perceived as a typical punter. One reason is that Podlesh is an excellent athlete. He posted the fastest 200- and 400- meter times in New York as a high school junior. At Maryland, he has bench pressed 340 pounds, squatted 435 and run a 4.48 in the 40-yard dash.
"I know kickers from other teams and they are definitely not Adam Podlesh or Nick Novak," Merriman said. "The [kickers from other teams] are way off the wall and don't fit in too much because they are kickers or punters. But we love our guys."
Terrapins Note: Maryland could be thin at wide receiver Thursday. Jo Jo Walker (concussion) is out, Drew Weatherly (hamstring) is doubtful and Dan Melendez (hamstring) is questionable.