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To win job, Egekeze reboots
Late last month on the eve of Maryland's opener, kicker Obi Egekeze lined up for a 58-yard attempt meant to be returned by a lingering deep man.
The drill, a staple of the Terrapins' Friday walkthroughs, didn't work as expected: Egekeze made the field goal.
"That's the first time that's ever happened," coach Ralph Friedgen said.
Chalk it up as another first for Egekeze, who finally earned Maryland's kicking job this season after two previous attempts. He nailed his first field goal attempt against Villanova and is 2-for-3 for the year as the Terrapins (2-0) prepare to face No. 4 West Virginia (2-0) on Thursday night at Byrd Stadium.
That will be the first real game in the spotlight for Egekeze and the Terps, who remember all too well a 45-24 rout last year by the Mountaineers. This week's game drew attention throughout the summer, a time when Egekeze honed his revamped game.
Faced with a choice between quantity and quality, Egekeze opted against kicking for the sake of kicking. Knowing Friedgen would taunt him before kicks during camp, Egekeze treated each attempt as if it were a live game.
"Maybe if I go out and I say, 'I'm going to kick 30 balls,' I only kicked 30 balls and I'd be done and leave," Egekeze said. "Hopefully after 30 balls I'd be happy. Some days I wasn't happy after 30 balls. You know you have to make it. In a competition, you only get one kick to make it count."
Egekeze was recruited to take over the kicking duties once Nick Novak's career was over. He redshirted in 2004, then competed with Dan Ennis the next year before a quadriceps injury scuttled his season.
The two were again in a kicking derby last year, and by mid-August Friedgen said Egekeze was in the lead. But Ennis wrested the job away a week later and enjoyed a superb senior season, relegating Egekeze to part-time kickoff duty.
Egekeze reversed the trend last month, quickly distancing himself from freshman Travis Baltz to claim the job. His improved accuracy has led to kicks routinely clanging off the mechanical sizzor lift perched behind the uprights at practice.
His clearly stronger leg might be even more impressive. Egekeze easily drilled a 42-yarder in his first career attempt against Villanova, and his 52-yard miss Saturday at Florida International had enough distance but sailed left. Even the way he goes about his work has changed for the better.
"There's no question he's approaching it like it's very important to him and that he doesn't want to let the team down," special teams coordinator Ray Rychleski said. "Before he just kicked because he's the kicker. Now it's 'I can't let these guys down.' "
Never was his booming kick as evident to the Terps as in that walkthrough last month. Egekeze insists he had never tried a kick beyond 55 yards but figured it wasn't too much of a stretch to kick it just inside midfield.
That certainty is part of a comfort level Egekeze established. Each field goal, be it a 30-yarder or a 50-yarder, is approached the same. The necessary component to doing so is remarkably simple.
"Repetition," Egekeze said — before rapidly repeating it seven times more.
Verbal irony aside, Egekeze follows a strong special teams legacy. Novak and Ennis combined to go 7-for-7 on game-tying or game-winning kicks in the final minute of regulation or overtime in the last six seasons.
Egekeze's ability to continue that tradition could be the difference several times for Maryland, which thrived last year because it pulled out several close games. Egekeze will face a far different environment Thursday than in the first two games, but he could be in line to build upon the success of his predecessors.
"Thursday night is what it is," Rychleski said. "It's 54,000 and about another 10 million on TV. You can't shy away from it, but I like where he's at."
Note — Maryland's Sept. 22 game at Wake Forest will start at 3:30 p.m. and be televised on ESPNU.
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