- The Washington Times - Friday, September 19, 2008

It was in the waning days of the first week of camp when Obi Egekeze drilled a 45-yard field goal during practice and earned a congratulatory chest-bump from Maryland offensive coordinator James Franklin.

It sent Franklin sprawling, but no matter. Egekeze had just saved his offensive teammates from running a few laps at the end of practice, and later teammates mobbed him and treated him as a hero.

“Real big,” Egekeze said that evening.

Chances are he would do just about anything to feel the same way again.

On a team responsible for repeated laments of inconsistency from coach Ralph Friedgen, Egekeze is achieving the worst kind of predictability. The senior is 0-for-5 on field goals this season, a jarring decline for a kicker who was 17-for-23 last season.

Egekeze, who was not made available for comment this week, missed three field goals in the season opener. One bounced off the crossbar, but all were attempts of more than 40 yards. No biggie.

A week later against Middle Tennessee, Egekeze clanked a 37-yard attempt off an upright. Suddenly, there was reason for concern.

Matters devolved further Saturday when Egekeze’s potentially game-icing try from 27 yards sailed left - his sixth straight miss dating back to last year’s Emerald Bowl.

It has left Maryland (2-1) searching for any sort of solution entering Saturday’s game against Eastern Michigan (1-2). Egekeze and Nick Wallace, whose college experience consists of one season at Division II Indiana (Pa.), competed this week for the job.

“At some point in time, we’re going to have to do what’s best for this football team, and that’s find a consistent kicker, whether it’s Obi or whether it’s Nick,” special teams coordinator Danny Pearman said. “Kicking’s no different than at quarterback or guard or linebacker.”

Yet in some ways it is. Nearly all the time, a scholarship kicker’s reserve is a walk-on, so any sort of change is especially glaring. A kicker’s failures are more obvious than any other position.

And while a physical component is needed to kick, there is little question performance is tied to activity between the ears as well.

“It’s got to be mental,” Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said. “You get out there in practice, and you kick ‘em and you kick ‘em and you kick ‘em and you hit ‘em from 50 yards. I’ve seen them hit from 55 yards. Then you get into a ballgame, and there’s [70,000], 80,000 up there in the stands, another team is rushing as hard as they can.”

Perhaps patience is the wisest strategy. It’s the approach Friedgen employed in 2001 when then freshman Nick Novak missed his first five attempts and was just 4-for-11 when he lined up for a game-tying kick against Georgia Tech. He made it, then drilled the game-winner in overtime and went on to become the ACC’s career scoring leader.

Egekeze doesn’t possess quite so profound a legacy, but he was still solid in his first season as a starter last fall. Half of his misses came on a windy day at Rutgers, and he was 13-for-14 in ACC play, which suggests the physical component is not a problem.

“I think there is some similarities,” Friedgen said. “I think what Obi has to do is make a big kick. If he does, I think everything will change. He’s been kicking much better this week. I see him focusing on things he needs to get better at.”

Belief, whether unwavering or scarcely concealed teetering, is one way to bolster a faltering kicker. But even that can’t always make up for other issues, such as a new holder or snapper. The Terps have both this season.

Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said it’s usually worthwhile to stick with a kicker, whose struggles are often similar to a hitter in a slump. Sometimes, though, restraint can only take a team so far.

“What do you do?” Bowden asked. “You start looking around in the first place. You start asking your coaches, ‘Can any of y’all kick?’”

That moment could arrive soon for Maryland. Egekeze is expected to kick Saturday, and his first field goal attempt might be the most anticipated moment of the game.

On the surface, it looks nerve-wracking - a situation the Terps are desperate to reverse before conference play arrives.

“We can’t keep going out there and have your heart in your throat for a 30-yarder,” Pearman said.

Even if Egekeze is just one kick away from becoming a hero again.

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