- The Washington Times - Monday, October 20, 2003

Teammates call him “Automat-Nick.”

He’s only a junior and probably will finish his career as Maryland’s all-time leading scorer. In fact, teammates have difficulty recalling the last time Terrapins kicker Nick Novak didn’t come through for the team.

And yet it hasn’t always been that way for Novak.

In 2001, as a freshman, he made only two of his six field goal attempts during the first half of the season. However, in a nationally televised Thursday night game at Georgia Tech, he hit 46-yarder at the end of regulation to tie the game. His 26-yarder in overtime proved to be the game-winner.

“Without a doubt, [that] gave him the confidence to be the kicker he is today,” coach Ralph Friedgen said.

On Thursday night, Novak will return to the place — Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium — where he first earned his reputation as a clutch kicker and helped Maryland’s resurgence under Friedgen. Once again it will be a nationally televised game as Maryland (5-2, 2-1 ACC) plays the improving Yellow Jackets (4-3, 2-2) in search of its sixth straight victory.

Novak, arguably the Terps’ best kicker since Jess Atkinson in the early 1980s, became a campus celebrity after the 2001 Georgia Tech game. Fans regularly tell him stories about where they were when he hit the 46-yarder.

In 2001, Novak scored a freshman record 89 points and set Maryland single-season marks last year with 24 field goals and 125 points. He tied the school record with a 54-yarder against Duke on Oct.11 en route to converting four field goals for the second time this season. This season Novak has made 14 of 17 and is 44-for-56 (79 percent) in three years.

But the game-tying kick against Georgia Tech probably will be his legacy, unless he comes up with a few more game-winning kicks in his final season and half.

“I’m a totally different kicker than two years ago,” he said. “[The kick gave me] confidence, the experience, the fact that I believe in myself no matter what. I know it will go straight. I doubted myself [before] and was afraid of missing. Now I’m fundamentally sound and confident the ball will go through.”

Novak appears to be the Terps’ best pro prospect, though he won’t graduate until 2005. The son of two college professors is a perfectionist who had a 4.0 grade point average last semester. How much of a perfectionist? Novak called Friedgen during a blizzard last winter and asked him to open the practice bubble so he could kick while the rest of the area tried to dig out. Friedgen told Novak that he couldn’t even open his front door and told the kicker to instead work on elevating his one B grade to an A.

The two have a rare coach-kicker relationship. Friedgen jokes that he keeps Novak’s brain in a jar on his office shelf. The coach teases the junior unmercifully for rare misses during practices. But Friedgen knows his legacy at Maryland was created in part by Novak and as a result watches him carefully. He can tell by the sound of kicks how Novak is faring.

“Good kickers, you can actually hear it,” Friedgen said. “You hear that thing pop. If you don’t have a lot of leg strength, it sounds like a marshmallow hitting the ball.”

Teammates rarely bother watching the flight of the ball during Novak’s five kicks that open practices. They know he’ll bombard the video camera operator who sits on a crane above the uprights and often bats away balls in self-defense.

“Nick’s automatic. He tells me every day where he can kick it from,” quarterback Scott McBrien said. “I have total confidence in him.”

Novak learned something about what McBrien faces every game.

During a kickoff against Duke, the kicker was blindsided and pinballed from the side on a hit that left him gasping on the ground for several minutes. Novak said his hair felt like it was on fire and his arm was numb. It was simple stinger and it sidelined him briefly. He returned to convert two of three field goals, including a 48-yarder.

“I finally realized what it’s like getting hit — you just get licked,” he said. “I asked Scott, ‘How do you take it?’ He said, ‘I just get up. I don’t know how I do it. You just keep going.’”

But Novak isn’t some former soccer player afraid of contact. In order to avoid becoming the so-called solitary kicker, he regularly carries the ball against the defense during practice. He spent the summer on campus in order to spend more time with his teammates, whom voted him onto the team’s leadership council.

“They respect my job,” he said. “They wouldn’t want to do it.”

Novak is so focused on kicking that he was a guest lecturer for an advanced kinesiology class. He taught the mechanics of kicking on a nearby soccer field where he occasionally plays pickup games.

“They told me they thought kicking was so easy,” he said. “It’s a matter of consistency — the momentum, force and levers, physics.”

And a little guts, too.

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