Maryland kicker Darmstadter puts off real world for a chance at boyhood bowl dream

Shortly after Henry Darmstadter’s arrival at Georgetown four years ago, special teams coach Kevin Doherty wasn’t exactly sure who the stocky redheaded kicker was.

“The coach hadn’t learned all the names and he referred to Henry as ‘The Keebler Elf,’ ” Darmstadter’s father, Andrew, recalled this week. “They thought, ‘Who is this little guy?’ ”

Darmstadter’s nickname eventually disappeared as his status in the Division III program grew. By the time the 5-foot-7, 183-pound kicker graduated in May, he had set the school record for field goals and field-goal percentage.

Having sat out as a freshman, Darmstadter still had a year’s eligibility remaining. Because the Patriot League doesn’t allow redshirts, he had to find a new home.

His parents were not exactly thrilled with their older son’s decision to prolong his career by transferring to Maryland and put off taking one of a “handful” of job offers the economics major had received.

“I said, ‘Henry, your mother and I want you to get a job,’ ” said Andrew Darmstadter, a professional investor. “I said, ‘You’ve done so well [at Georgetown], it’s very likely that you’re going to leave college with a bad experience. You might not get on the team, you might not contribute, this and that. And he said, ‘Dad, I just want a chance.”

Getting onto the Maryland campus a few weeks before the start of preseason practice, Darmstadter was stopped at lunch one day by Rick Court, the team’s strength and conditioning coach.

“He said, ‘You need to start telling people you’re a kicker on the football team, because I had a few people ask me, ‘Who is new student manager?’ ” Darmstadter recalled with a laugh Wednesday.

Those who follow the Terps might not have heard of Darmstadter until he replaced senior Adam Greene (Broadneck) and made a school-record nine point-after-touchdowns in a 63-17 home win over Towson on Sept. 9.

Yet the most attention Darmstadter received came Saturday, when he made a career-best 51-yard field goal as time expired in the first half of what became a 31-24 win at Minnesota.

Just as the Terps understand that the challenge will be much greater this week at 10th-ranked Ohio State, Darmstadter knows that playing in “The Horseshoe” with over 100,000 fans will be much different.

It will certainly not be anything close to what he experienced during three years kicking at the Football Championship Subdivision level at Georgetown, where he made 28 of 38 field-goal tries, including 11 of 14 last season, along with 60 of 61 PATs.

“I assume it will be loud, I assume there will be a lot of people, but obviously it will be a lifetime experience and something I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” Darmstadter said.

Asked the difference between kicking in the Big Ten and the Patriot League, Darmstadter said: “Obviously the biggest difference from Maryland and Georgetown would be the atmosphere and intensity. Coming here is a big step up in a sense. But so far I’ve risen to the challenges.

“Obviously it’s a different experience, It’s much louder, but for the most part, a lot of it just believing in yourself and trusting that you can do the job that you’ve done for 10 years. For me, there isn’t much of a [difference]."

Darmstadter said what he went through early in his career with the Hoyas helped him in his transition to Maryland. Three games into his sophomore year, Darmstadter beat out Ben Priddy, a former star quarterback, safety, punter and kicker at Severn.

Priddy wound up as a kickoff specialist for the rest of his career.

“Just kind of having that experience really helped me coming in here,” Darmstadter said. “Being able to go through the pressure and being able to handle it.”

A soccer player for all four years as a defender at George Mason High, Darmstadter found that his time in goal when he was in middle school also played a part in his job as a kicker.

“Being a goalie is a tough position. It’s 95 percent standing around, kicking dirt and the other 5 percent is sheer terror,” said Darmstadter , whose younger brother Paul is a junior midfielder at Case Western Reserve in Cleveland.

Paul Darmstadter said his older brother has always been “a kid who thrives under pressure.”

In that sense, kicking field goals is much easier. When it came time to try the 51-yarder against the Golden Gophers, Darmstadter had plenty of warning after the Terps got the ball back late in the first half.

“In that situation, I obviously looked at the clock and I saw that there was less than a minute left, and I thought I’ve got to be warm on the off-chance that we break a big play or whatever,” Darmstadter said.

When he saw Ty Johnson purposely go down with a few ticks left on the clock, Darmstadter knew his chance had arrived. Darmstadter, whose previous long field goal was a 49-yarder last season, knew he had a helping, yet swirling, wind.

“That was probably the worst wind I’ve played in in terms of not knowing where it was going,” Darmstadter said. “The distance wasn’t worrying me, it was more having the right accuracy and whether I’m going to play the wind the right way.”

The Maryland family team members were sitting together just to the left of the goal posts toward where the football was coming, including Darmstadter’s parents and his 89-year-old grandfather, Mike Zetties.

“That was a special thing for him, it really was,” Andrew Darmstadter said of his father-in-law.

As confident as Darmstadter was after the longest field goal by a Maryland kicker since former Lou Groza Award winner Brad Craddock made a school-record 57-yarder against Ohio State in 2014, he was happy to see Johnson score on a 34-yard run in the final minute for the go-ahead score.

“I’m just happy that we won, to be honest,” Darmstadter said Wednesday. “For me, I’m just here to win as many games as possible. I only get one year at this. I’m happy as long as we win I’d rather win and kick 10 extra points than [lose and] kick 10 field goals.”

Second-year Maryland coach DJ Durkin’s decision to reopen his team’s kicking competition came after Greene had one field goal attempt blocked and returned for a touchdown and missed badly on a 50-yard attempt in a season-opening win at Texas.

Asked about Darmstadter’s kick against Minnesota, Durkin smiled.

“I thought it was great,” Durkin said. “That’s something we haven’t been able to do or have here in a while. Yeah, we can certainly build on that. [I’m] very excited for him, he’s been a great addition to our team.”

After the game, Darmstadter said he received a text message from his longtime kicking coach, Paul Woodside.

“He said, ‘You’re living the dream,’ ” Darmstadter said. “I really am.”

If the Terps can win at least three of their last eight regular-season games, Darmstadter will be able to fulfill a childhood dream that started when he met some college players at a summer football camp.

“He had heard these guys talk about bowl games, and I think at 13 or 14 whenever he started, he had set his mind that he wanted to kick in a bowl game,” the elder Darmstadter recalled. “He wants to get to a bowl game.”

Said Darmstadter: “One of fondest things they said was, ‘Bowl games are a lot of fun. They’re worth all the effort. You wake up early for workouts and basically you get pushed until you heave.’ You do that because at the end of the day you get to play in a bowl.”

As the family gets ready for Saturday’s game in Columbus, Andrew Darmstadter considers what has happened since his son left Georgetown on graduation day.

“This is crazy, but it’s gravy,” the kicker’s father said.

don.markus@baltsun.com

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