COLLEGE PARK -- It's not always easy for a punter to win the respect of his teammates, so Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen devised a foolproof method this preseason for second-year freshman Adam Podlesh.
He'd stick Podlesh and the punt team on their 1-yard line, bring an all-out rush at them, and tell Podlesh if he didn't kick the ball to the 50-yard line, the whole team would have to run as punishment.
"It's a way to make friends quickly," Friedgen said with a grin.
For the most part, Podlesh, a native of Pittsford, N.Y., has passed the test heading into Thursday's season opener against Northern Illinois. While he is still working on doing it consistently, when Podlesh gets a hold of one with his right foot, the ball can go a long way.
Strong punting has been an important part of Maryland's success the past two years, as departed punter Brooks Barnard, a two-time All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection, dug the Terps out of some tough holes when the offense was sputtering.
"Brooks showed me a lot last year," Podlesh said. "It wasn't so much technique as it was other little things, like how to sky-punt or how to pooch-punt. He was obviously a real good kicker, and I fed off that. It was definitely a lot different from high school."
Punting isn't the only thing Podlesh has had to worry about, however. He's also Maryland's holder on field-goal attempts, which, though important, is only a position that gets noticed when the holder makes a mistake.
"I'm a little worried about him," Friedgen said. "He's dropped a few in practice. He gets it down faster than Brooks did, but I'm not sure his hands are quite as good."
Podlesh, a former soccer player who also played fullback and linebacker in high school, said he's not worried about the pressure of that first kick or first snap in front of a packed house against Northern Illinois. In fact, he's been waiting for the moment for some time.
"I know from watching film that Wake Forest made a lot of special teams errors against [Northern Illinois] last year and that's a big reason why they lost," Podlesh said. "I think we're going to be solid that first game out."
McBrien on the mend
Quarterback Scott McBrien said that he felt sore yesterday morning, but that it wasn't enough to keep him from practicing. The senior, who has been suffering from a groin strain that was threatening to keep him out of the first game, went through all the drills and even did some rollouts, afterward declaring again that he will be ready to start Thursday night.
"I ran a little bit harder today than I did yesterday," McBrien said. "I was kind of hesitant yesterday. But I felt good. I had treatment all day, and once I get stretched and warmed up, it doesn't feel too bad. Right now, I'm not going 100 percent, but I'll step it up a little each day and see how it feels."
Maryland is already without starters Bruce Perry, Lamar Bryant and Steve Suter for the opener.
A day after practicing hard for the first time since having knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus, linebacker Shawne Merriman sat out with some swelling in his knee. "He wanted to practice, but I told him to take the day off," Friedgen said. ... Safety Dennard Wilson gave Maryland a scare yesterday when he had to be helped off the field after his legs got tangled up with another player. Friedgen said Wilson tried to practice later in the day, but was forced to sit out with what appeared to be a hamstring injury.
Opponent: Northern Illinois
Site: Huskie Stadium, DeKalb, Ill.
When: Thursday, 7:35 p.m.
TV/Radio:C N8/WBAL (1090 AM)
Line: Maryland by 8 1/2
Coming tomorrow: The college football season will be previewed in a special section.