- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Dan Ennis was set to join the Maryland football team on the first day of classes three years ago. He arrived ready to practice, and all he needed was a uniform.

Trouble was, the folks in the equipment room weren’t eager to give much to the diminutive walk-on.

“I don’t think they were ready to issue me the whole spiel and put me in full gear right away,” Ennis said. “I think that was kind of a joke at first, but they wanted to make sure I wasn’t some scrub coming in there.”

The Terrapins — and their opponents — know better now. The redshirt junior is perfect in nine field goal attempts and five PATs, completing a smooth transition from four-year starter Nick Novak.

He is among the least likely football stars in the country. He starred as a soccer midfielder at Glenelg High School in Howard County, and never played prep football. Yet he fooled around at times with kicking, occasionally booting soccer balls as a kicker might while at school and in his backyard.

Ennis attended only one kicking camp and actually didn’t like it much, but he figured it wouldn’t hurt to send a videotape to Maryland’s coaching staff. He planned on coming to Maryland anyway, and knew he didn’t have much of a chance of making the Terps’ soccer team, a perennial national contender.

“I wasn’t some highly recruited walk-on and I wasn’t recruited by a bunch of schools,” Ennis said. “I was just hoping to have a chance.”

It seemed unlikely to work out, at least at first. Novak was entrenched as the long-term starter after helping the Terps win an ACC title with some clutch kicks as a freshman. Ennis’ form was inconsistent, since he had almost no training to be a placekicker.

And then there was the problem of the distance — or lack thereof — on his kicks.

“He weighed about 120 pounds when he first came out,” Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said. “I can remember him first kicking and he was having trouble kicking it over from about the 15-yard line. I didn’t ever think he’d be kicking for us.”

Ennis was determined to stick with the Terps, a team he cheered for while growing up in Sykesville, Md. Unfazed by early practices, he worked hard in the weight room to increase his weight to 154 pounds. Special teams coach Ray Rychleski said Ennis bench presses nearly 300 pounds, making him pound-for-pound one of the strongest players on the team.

Ennis also shadowed Novak for three years, picking up tips from the man who eventually would become the ACC career scoring leader. Ennis copied Novak’s form to correct any errors, and even drilled four extra points in 2003.

He and redshirt freshman Obi Egekeze battled throughout summer camp to replace Novak, who graduated after last season. The competition was tight, but Egekeze suffered a right quadriceps injury and Ennis earned the job.

He hasn’t come close to squandering it. He drilled three field goals in the Terps’ season-opening victory against Navy, and added three more as Maryland (2-2, 1-1 ACC) snapped a two-game losing streak with a 22-12 victory at Wake Forest on Saturday.

That has thrilled his Terps-heavy family, as well as friends who have watched Ennis quickly emerge as a significant weapon for Maryland. Some have taken to wearing red T-shirts with “Ennis” plastered in duct tape on the back to support their friend.

“My whole family graduated from the University of Maryland,” Ennis said. “My aunts, uncles and parents. They have such a good time at the games. It’s good to be succeeding, because I know it wouldn’t be fun for me if I wasn’t and it wouldn’t be fun for them.”

Or for the Terps, who have struggled to score points inside the red zone and have come to rely on Ennis’ production in the first month of the season. Maryland has scored on 15 of its 17 trips inside the 20, with Ennis delivering field goals to cap nine of those drives.

Novak actually went through a slow start to his career — the current Washington Redskin missed his first five tries in 2001. There’s been no such trial period for Ennis, who trails only Clemson’s Jad Dean among ACC kickers in field goals made and already has plenty of appreciation from his teammates.

“When we run the field goal unit on the field, we’re getting ready for kickoff,” senior linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said. “We know he’s going to make it.”

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