- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Travis Baltz shivered in the aftermath of another long, frigid spring practice at Maryland recently and observed a vast change from what he was accustomed to back in Ohio.

“It’s a lot different than high school,” Baltz said as he bundled up. “I never really had to stay the whole practice.”

Welcome to college, kid. And, no pressure or anything, but Baltz is competing for two vital vacancies on the Terrapins’ special teams.

Baltz arrived at Maryland a semester early, the better to acclimate himself to football at the college level and get a head start on earning the nod at two critical positions. It is a potential boon for the Terps, who are seeking answers at both punter and kicker after losing starters at both positions.

Baltz has experience with both. He was a two-time all-state pick from Whitehouse, Ohio, who averaged 40 yards a punt last fall and also went 5-for-6 on his field goal attempts.

Back then, football wasn’t even a full-time concern for Baltz, who would attend a 45-minute special teams workout before leaving for soccer practice. There is no easy out now, especially since he could be a potential utility guy for a program with little recent history of special teams foibles.

The Terps used only two punters — Brooks Barnard and Adam Podlesh — over the last seven seasons and have not had a punt blocked since 1999, the longest streak in the nation. Maryland also started just two kickers (Nick Novak and Dan Ennis) over coach Ralph Friedgen’s six seasons, though Ennis had to earn the job during camp the last two years.

The two jobs haven’t turned over at the same time until now, leaving Baltz as an intriguing, multifaceted option.

“Just by coming here in the spring is going to help him tremendously,” special teams coordinator Ray Rychleski said. “It’s not a full year, but at least he’s down the road. … Am I worried? Sure, when you lose two seniors like we had last year, you have a right to be concerned. But there’s got to be somebody coming in. He has a chance to have a great career here.”

It could begin quickly at both positions. The Terps have no one with any Division I punting experience, and kicker Obi Egekeze’s struggles this spring have further opened things at that position. Baltz is still adapting to the position and missed a 20-yard field goal in Saturday’s scrimmage as he and Egekeze went a combined 3-for-8 from varying distances.

He still has technique issues with his punting as well, though the spring probably will help him iron some of his inconsistencies. Rychleski is impressed with Baltz’s leg strength but concedes his stride is too long for now and is conducive to an occasional block.

Friedgen, though, recalls Podlesh’s struggles during his redshirt season, a luxury Baltz probably won’t enjoy next fall. When Podlesh critiqued Baltz earlier this spring, Friedgen made an immediate observation.

“I said, ‘Adam, you know he’s further ahead than you when you first came in,’ ” Friedgen said. “He said, ‘You’re probably right.’ I said, ‘I know I’m right.’ ”

It’s an insight Friedgen might be wise to remember in the coming months. Podlesh left Maryland with a 43.1-yard average, and Ennis was 20-for-25 on field goals with no missed extra points last season. Neither was instantly that successful, though Baltz is doing everything possible to make a solid first impression.

“Especially having a chance to compete and knowing what it’s like to have other guys around you who could win the job and have someone pushing you,” Baltz said. “I had people pushing me in high school, but it’s a lot more competitive here. It’s nice to get the experience and the pressure on you to try to get you ready. That’s the goal, to get ready.”

Notes — Friedgen said freshman quarterback Jeremy Ricker likely will transfer. Ricker has not attended Maryland’s last two practices, and Friedgen said he told Hummelstown, Pa., native he would grant a release to any school the Terps don’t play. Friedgen said he has yet to sign a release for Ricker, who was ESPN.com’s ninth-ranked quarterback in the class that entered last fall. …

Safety Christian Varner pulled a hamstring during individual drills yesterday.

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