The first of 10 positional breakdowns as Maryland’s Sept. 5 opener against Miami approaches.
It doesn’t happen much in College Park. Only once in the previous 17 seasons was Maryland forced to replace both a starting kicker and a starting punter in the same year.
That was in 2007, when the Terrapins turned to an injury-plagued scholarship kicker entering his junior year and a promising freshman punter to handle the load.
And the most likely outcome in 2011 will leave Maryland with a junior kicker coming off an injury-plagued season and a promising freshman punter.
The deja vu is warranted to an extent. There are, of course, differences between the two situations.
In ‘07, punter Travis Baltz arrived a semester early to acclimate himself to the program, while incoming freshman Nathan Renfro came to Maryland during the summer. Baltz also entered the fall rather comfortably with the job, while Renfro has a walk-on (Michael Tart) listed ahead of him on the initial depth chart.
Then there’s kicker, where the new starter in 2007 (Obi Egekeze) was a familiar name but one who had yet to attempt a field goal or extra point during his career. Nick Ferrara, one of the unquestioned bright spots of the ill-fated 2009 season, has a full season of kicking (and part of one punting) to his name already.
Ferrara is only halfway through his career, but he’s seen enough twists to last a full four years. He made a game-winning, overtime kick in his second game as a freshman and proved a capable replacement for an injured Baltz later that season. He also was injured last summer, never reclaimed the starting kicking job from Baltz once healthy and then found himself in dicey academic straits during spring practice.
With the problems of the last year resolved, Ferrara could still emerge as a capable kicker. This season, though, will have a substantial influence on how well Ferrara is remembered in program lore:
MOST FIELD GOALS, CAREER, MARYLAND KICKERS
80: Nick Novak, 2001-04
60: Jess Atkinson, 1981-84
47: Dan Plocki, 1985-88
42: Brian Kopka, 1997-2000
37: Dan Ennis, 2003-06
37: Steve Mike-Mayer, 1972-74
32: Dan DeArmas, 1988-91
32: Obi Egekeze, 2005-08
28: Joe O’Donnell, 1994-96
27: Dale Castro, 1979-80
22: Ed Loncar, 1976-78
19: Mike Sochko, 1975-77
18: Bernardo Bramson, 1964-66
18: Nick Ferrara, 2009-present
Ferrara can still wind up as a top-five kicker in school history. The short-term impact is more obvious. A year ago, Maryland didn’t attempt to extend Baltz’s range except in a handful of instances, hardly a surprise for a guy who hadn’t kicked since high school.
Baltz was 2-for-3 from more than 40 yards —- including a wind-aided 52-yarder against N.C. State —- just a year after Ferrara attempted 10 kicks of more than 40 yards. That statistical nugget is partially a function of Maryland’s offense finishing off more drives rather than stalling upon getting to the 20-yard line.
Baltz was also 14-for-18 overall, the Terps’ third-best percentage season in the last 20 years.
While Ferrara attempts to reboot his career, Maryland finds itself with a new punter for just the fourth time since 1997. The last two successions went well —- from Brooks Barnard to Adam Podlesh, and then Podlesh to Baltz. In 1999, it took more than a month before Barnard found himself in the starter’s role.
Renfro has an opportunity to seize the job and then set up the usual brand of stability Maryland has become accustomed to at the position (remember, the last time a Maryland punt was blocked was in 1999). Tart, a redshirt freshman, is Renfro’s competition during camp.
Specialists generally aren’t recruited as scholarship players to sit around and do nothing (Podlesh’s redshirt year, which overlapped with Barnard’s senior year, was a rare exception of when it was intentional). Renfro, then, will likely have every opportunity to win the job.
If he does, he’ll be the successor to a run of guys who rank first (Barnard), second (Podlesh) and fifth (Baltz) in school history in punting average. It’s a high standard at a position Maryland grew accustomed to receiving steady production from for the last decade and change.
—- Patrick Stevens