Carlos Huerta has stepped gingerly into the cleats of Donald Igwebuike this summer.
At every mention of Igwebuike -- a cult hero in Baltimore's first Canadian Football League season -- Huerta pays homage to his predecessor.
The place-kicking job with the Baltimore Football Club unquestionably belongs to Huerta, who was obtained in the dispersal draft of the Las Vegas Posse last April.
Yet, it is as if the man fans loved to call Iggy still casts a shadow on Huerta's part of the field.
Pressure in this training camp is missing a long field goal, hearing an "Iggy" chant from the home fans, and then lining up for a 50-yarder.
That's what happened to Huerta on Saturday in the exhibition opener against Ottawa. He hammered field goals of 46 and 44 yards, then missed from 48 and 42. A small but vocal group of fans paid tribute to Igwebuike at that point.
Huerta heard. "I went out and kicked the 50-yarder after that," he said assertively. Then he dutifully addressed the Igwebuike angle: "I hope it works out for him."
Igwebuike recently got his immigration problem straightened out, albeit too late to save his old job.
According to his agent, Eric Eisenberg of Cleveland, Igwebuike is expected to arrive in Baltimore from his native Nigeria tomorrow, the same day the team plays the Birmingham Barracudas in Miami. On the suspended list at the moment, he will be released upon arrival, coach Don Matthews said.
Igwebuike was the third-most accurate kicker during the CFL's regular season, Huerta the second-most accurate. Huerta hit eight field goals of 50 yards or longer, compared to Igwebuike's three.
Indeed, if Huerta's career numbers with Las Vegas and the University of Miami are any indication, he is a pressure kicker.
Jauntily confident, he rarely kicks a field goal of under 40 yards in practice. Most often, he kicks 50-yards-plus.
"He has a tremendous work ethic," Matthews said.
Huerta made three of six field goals, and four of five conversions in his Baltimore debut last week. He had a 51-yard field goal blocked on a protection mistake. And he shanked a conversion when holder Josh Miller mishandled the snap.
"I didn't kick awfully well," he said. "My kicks were low. I usually get more height."
He refused to blame the misses on a still-tender right quadriceps muscle he injured playing soccer last spring. Instead, he seems almost embarrassed by it.
"This camp has a huge cloud over it for me because of my injury," said Huerta, who turns 26 Thursday. "I appreciate the organization being patient with my comeback."
Huerta is prepared to show that appreciation, too. Although he first refused a contract extension that would have made him the highest-paid pure place-kicker in the CFL -- in order to try for the NFL next season -- he now says he is open to renegotiation.
In the second year of his Vegas contract, Huerta is due to make a base salary of $25,000 with incentives that would push it to approximately $40,000.
He said Baltimore is nothing like his experience in Las Vegas last year.
"I know Coach Matthews says players win games," Huerta said. "[But] it seems like players are given the opportunity to win games here. In Vegas, it didn't seem that way."
Baltimore's exhibition finale tomorrow will take Huerta back to the Orange Bowl, where he was the Most Valuable Player on the Hurricanes' 1991 national championship team.
He returns at a time when Miami football is under siege as a program gone amok. Allegations include tampered drug tests and payments to players. He says he has no knowledge that any of it happened while he was there.
"I think Coach [Dennis] Erickson [now with the Seattle Seahawks] is taking blame for things that were present before he got there and took place while other coaches were there. It's a last-one-to-leave kind of thing," Huerta said.
Huerta called a recent Sports Illustrated story about corruption in the program "mumbo-jumbo." He said even he has been accused of accepting payments while at Miami, but denies getting any money. "The drug testing thing is the big issue now, and I wasn't part of that," he said.
Huerta will prefer to remember the positive moments at Miami: "The times I had in the Orange Bowl you just dream of as a little kid. I came from being a walk-on to being a first-team All-American. I had a lot of great games right there."
NOTES: Injured players who won't make today's flight to Miami are defensive backs Karl Anthony (calf), Chuck Anthony (abdominal strain) and Mike Jones (hamstring), running back Robert Drummond (buttock) and slotback Joe Washington (hamstring). Of the healthy players, two will be left behind: offensive linemen Marc Borrelli and John James. . . . Carolina Panthers scout Joe Mack attended yesterday's practice at Towson State.
NEXT FOR BFC
Exhibition opponent: Birmingham Barracudas
When: Tomorrow, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Orange Bowl, Miami
TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WJFK (1300 AM), WGRX (100.7 FM)
Last week: The BFC defeated the Ottawa Rough Riders, 45-11, at Memorial Stadium.