Before he arrived at Maryland, Dan Ennis had worn exactly one football uniform in his life: a full Redskins get-up -- including helmet -- that he received as a Christmas gift in elementary school.
Truth be told, he had asked for either a Redskins or a Terrapins uniform, but his parents had difficulty finding replica college gear that included a helmet, and so his childhood games of tackle football with his father were played out in burgundy and gold.
Ennis finally got his Terps uniform when he walked on as a place kicker in the fall of 2002. Three years later, the lifelong Maryland fan will be the starter when the Terps open against Navy on Saturday evening at M&T Bank Stadium.
Ennis had been slightly ahead of Obi Egekeze in the preseason kicking competition, but a thigh injury to Egekeze ended the competition Friday, five days before Ennis's 21st birthday.
If, several years ago, you had asked his father to guess the chances of his son becoming Maryland's starter, "I wouldn't even have put odds on it," the elder Dan Ennis said yesterday.
It's not that the son wasn't talented; he had joined a soccer league at age 5, played year-round travel soccer since the fifth grade and always had a strong leg, handling corner kicks as a varsity midfielder at Glenelg High in Howard County.
"He did a fantastic job for me," Glenelg soccer coach Peter Klisas said. "His work ethic is excellent, he puts in 100 percent, and I say that sincerely."
And Ennis was plenty athletic, running track and helping Glenelg win a state championship in the 4x800-meter relay.
Ennis's parents, who both went to Maryland, dressed him in Terps gear even as a toddler. His father would hold his infant son while watching games on television, and the two continued to watch nearly every televised Maryland game together as he grew up.
And despite his love of soccer, Ennis would practice kicking footballs in his family's back yard, using a makeshift tee to send balls over a soccer net that doubled as a goal post. By his senior year he was booting footballs more than 40 yards, and Ennis asked his father to videotape him kicking field goals on Glenelg's football field.
"And he was making them; it wasn't like I had to edit the tape. The balls were just going over," the father said. "I was impressed enough that we thought about taking the video [to Maryland]. But even then, you still think the odds are ridiculous."
Still, during their next trip to College Park, father and son dropped off the tape with Maryland special teams coach Ray Rychleski, who immediately invited Ennis to walk on.
"Now usually those guys go by the wayside, they don't hang around long enough," Rychleski said. "This kid decided he liked being part of the team, and look where he's at now."
Ennis, who had always been thin, began putting on weight and getting stronger; the 5-foot-11, 154-pound kicker can now bench press close to 300 pounds. He accepted advice from record-setting incumbent Nick Novak -- they've talked regularly this summer as Novak has attempted to win a job with the Chicago Bears -- and he grew accustomed to working with a snapper and holder for the first time.
Ennis also improved his range. He was initially erratic, even from shorter distances, "and now he's kicking 'em from 49" yards, Coach Ralph Friedgen said. "The kid has really worked his butt off."
Indeed, in two preseason scrimmages this month, Ennis made 8 of 10 field goal attempts, hitting 3 of 4 from beyond 45 yards. That performance alleviated concerns that his range was less than Egekeze's, although Friedgen still worries about the low trajectory of some of Ennis's kicks.
Coaches said Ennis's competition with Egekeze will reopen if the latter returns to health. Still, Ennis, who is 4 for 4 in his career on extra points but has never attempted a field goal in a game, said he won't be worried about the pressure Saturday.
"At first I was lucky to be here, and I just worked hard," Ennis said. "I hope the work that I put in will take me places and take the team where we need to go."