- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 20, 2006

Dan Ennis’ 2005 season ended with a month-plus slump, and Obi Egekeze’s never even started.

Maybe that’s why both protagonists in Maryland’s kicking competition are happy to have something to keep their minds on besides the past. In a sport so predicated on physicality, kicking is one of the few positions in which mind games matter.

There are only a handful of chances each game for a kicker to ply his trade, and they are often accompanied by taunts from opponents and fans.

Opposing coaches call timeouts to provide a little extra time for a kicker to ponder his pending opportunity.

And at Maryland, a kicker must endure the rumblings of coach Ralph Friedgen, who often boasts “I’ve got your brain in a jar on my shelf” as he heckles a player before a field goal attempt in practice.

“It’s all psychological,” Egekeze said. “There’s not much physical to it. You either make the kicks or you don’t. That’s about the only physical part to it. The psychological part is lining up and kicking the ball.”

The matter of who would earn the kicking duties was one of the Terrapins’ biggest questions entering camp this month. Ennis, who started all of last season after Egekeze suffered a quadriceps injury in August, took an early lead this year. Egekeze, though, is now the favorite to start when Maryland opens the season Sept. 2 against William & Mary.

The battle is one of a handful that continued last night as the Terps scrimmaged for the second time. Egekeze made all his field goals while Ennis struggled.

“I think Obi won the job tonight unless that changes …,” Friedgen said. “Right now, I would say Obi has the slight lead. Whether he can stay consistent or not [will determine that]. He’s really outkicked Dan in practice.”

Ennis is the more experienced of the two. The senior, a former walk-on, drilled his first 11 attempts last season before a lackluster 6-for-14 finish. Five of Ennis’ misses were from more than 40 yards, but he also botched a pair of extra points. One of those helped North Carolina force overtime, though Ennis eventually won the game with a 28-yarder.

“I was young at that time as a kicker and I didn’t know how to handle the situation,” Ennis said. “At times, I was down on myself. I just felt like it didn’t go my way. I hit it good and for what ever reason it didn’t happen.”

Egekeze was down almost the entire the season. Friedgen dutifully noted each week Egekeze was closer to returning from his injury, but it didn’t happen.

Instead, Egekeze rehabbed his leg, spent more than an hour each day in the program’s SwimEx machine and is finally ready to make it on the field for the first time since 2003, when he was in high school.

“I’ve thought about that a little bit,” the sophomore said. “The first game, if I get to kick or however it turns out, it’s going to be a little shock just having been out of the fray for that long.”

Egekeze is also competing with Chris Roberts for the kickoff duties, and Friedgen observed last week the 6-foot-2, 218-pound Egekeze was enjoying his best stretch since joining the program.

Yet what Friedgen wants most is the comfort in knowing he can send a kicker onto the field in a game-winning situation without worrying about the outcome.

“I’ve got a scholarship invested in him,” Friedgen said. “It’s not that he doesn’t have the ability. I think he has a little more leg than Dan does. Right now, I’m hoping we can have one guy come on and be consistent for us. I don’t like extra points to be exciting.”

Ennis can appreciate that. Though his lead over Egekeze vanished in the last week, Ennis’ mind doesn’t wander away from preparing for his next attempt. After all, the psychology of kicking demands nothing less.

“It’s very stressful, but at the same time you have to know ‘Hey, I did it last year and I’m excited to do it again this year,’” Ennis said. “It’s nothing beyond that.”

Note — Redshirt freshman receiver Nolan Carroll (concussion) missed the scrimmage.

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