The Washington Times - September 1, 2008, 11:33AM

When you draft in fantasy football – as I just did this morning for the third time in four days – you usually don’t pick a kicker until the last round. Or when the computer does it for you because your connection is terrible. Not that I’m bitter.

(By the way, the best team name I’ve come up with so far this year is “SarahPalinChronicles,” with the Yahoo smack reading “Trying to protect John McCain, er, Connor and save the future.”; still working on some others to create maximum amusement.)

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Anyway, in an act of thumbing my nose at the system, I didn’t take a kicker (instead taking Bengals rookie linebacker Keith Rivers in the final round in an attempt to show off how smart I think I am). But in real life, kickers are vital, and you’d think Maryland might be asking some questions after Obi Egekeze missed three field goals on Saturday.

But coach Ralph Friedgen didn’t seem worried, probably on a couple levels. Egekeze didn’t miss a chip shot (all were more than 40 yards), and he nearly made two of them. Just as importantly, the Terrapins might not have a viable option in reserve; only one other kicker (David May) even came to camp. So why pour it on the guy when he’s probably the best available candidate for the job.

“One was probably going to be a 47-, 48-yard field goal. It was into the wind and I almost decided to go for it,” Friedgen said. “But I think if Obi can get one of those, which I think he has the leg for, it would really help his confidence. He hit it pretty good and it hit the crossbar.

“The second one he didn’t hit well at all. I think he closed his hips and really I think it as a poor kick. The last one I thought he hit pretty good, too, and usually from the right hash he hooks the ball in there. And he had the wind behind him. He just hit the upright. Two of the three, if they’re six inches further or six inches over, they’re good.”

If Egekeze proved anything last year, it’s that he is reliable from inside 40 yards. He made all 36 extra points, and if his shaky day at Rutgers is taken out, he was 15-for-18 overall and 12-for-13 from less than 40 yards.

So maybe Saturday was his one lousy day. But it also gives him four straight misses dating back to the Emerald Bowl. Friedgen, though, has been here before with kickers.

In 2001, Nick Novak missed his first five field goal attempts and needed to fend off Vedad Siljkovic for the job. Novak was 4-for-11 on the season when he kicked the tying and winning field goals at Georgia Tech. He finished that season on a 12-for-14 streak and started for four years en route to becoming the ACC’s career scoring leader.

“I’m not ready to panic there yet,” Friedgen said. “I’m trying to help him get some confidence. I think he has a very strong leg and he gets good height on the ball and gets it off on time. I just relate to Nick Novak. He missed [five] in a row and he ended up being the leading scorer in our school history. I’m just hanging with him and I think good things will happen.”

Patrick Stevens