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Maryland’s Renfro, Navy’s Beltran have leg up on punter roles
Nathan Renfro didn't have a scholarship offer less than a week before signing day. He could end up starting at Maryland this season.
Such is the life of a college football punter, a position where opportunities often turn into long-term assignments - even if they develop unexpectedly.
For Renfro, that meant signing with Maryland even after he figured he would have to settle for a walk-on role elsewhere. He's competing with walk-on Michael Tart for the Terrapins' vacant punting job.
"Whenever you can play for four years, that's the ideal situation," Renfro said last week. "Instead of having to wait your turn and wait it out, I would love to get thrown in there right away."
In a quirky coincidence, so too would a freshman 30 miles to the east at the state's other major-college program.
Navy's Pablo Beltran figured he would he would attempt to secure a starting job during his first camp. More than likely, though, it appeared junior Justin Haan would maintain control of a position he won during the spring.
Yet as Beltran endured the rigors of plebe summer, he learned Haan would pursue missionary work this semester. Suddenly, there was an open gig and, perhaps just as importantly, something to look forward to during the drudgery of his acclimation period at the academy.
"That's all I could think about," Beltran said. "I tried to memorize my rates and the first thing that was coming into my head was 'Football. Punting.' It was pretty tough staying in the plebe summer mode and knowing that news. I never want to settle for anything. I knew if I missed up, they'd give it to someone else."
Initially, Beltran wasn't listed as the Mids' starter. But it didn't take long for coach Ken Niumatalolo to realize the Texan was the best option to slide into the suddenly vacant position.
But there were questions. All the academy's requirements for new midshipmen take a physical toll, and Beltran acknowledged his legs felt like "blocks of lead" at times in July. Soon enough, though, he was punting as well as he ever had.
That production was a relief to Niumatalolo, who admitted there is some concern placing a freshman into a regular punting role so quickly.
"Big-time, especially here," Niumatalolo said. "Maybe not so much at other places, but you never know here coming from plebe summer. You never know what's going to happen to a guy jogging around, running three miles a day during plebe summer, what's going to happen to their legs. Fortunately, his leg still has some pop."
While Beltran has solidified jobs as the Mids' punter and holder heading into their opener against Delaware on Sept. 3, there is less certainty in College Park as the Terps enter their Labor Day date with Miami.
Renfro, though, could emerge as the latest long-term Maryland punter. The Terps have used only three primary punters over the past dozen years. In the past 10 years, Brooks Barnard (2001-2002), Adam Podlesh (2003-06) and Travis Baltz (2007-10) accounted for 545 of the program's 581 punts.
Much like Beltran, Renfro is eager to make a difference in his first year — at least in measured doses.
"I think it's something that would be amazing," Renfro said. "Maybe when it gets down to game time, it might be a little more daunting since it would actually be happening at the moment, but I think it would just be an awesome thing to be able to do — just to be able to help my team out in any way possible. Hopefully with my position, if I'm punting, I don't have to play that much."
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
Patrick Stevens has covered Maryland and other Mid-Atlantic college sports for more than a decade. You can reach him at email@example.com.
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