UM's turn to reboot


COLLEGE PARK - As he aimed for the goal post, Maryland kicker Obi Egekeze held up two fingers on his right hand like a peace sign and brought them down in front of his face, drawing two invisible lines.

"I don't know if he's giving the evil eye or what," coach Ralph Friedgen said with a chuckle. "He's getting it in his sights, I guess. Whatever he does to kick it through the uprights, I don't care."

For the first time in four seasons, Friedgen needs to solidify the place-kicker and long snapper positions. Gone are Nick Novak, the Atlantic Coast Conference's leading scorer, and long snapper Jon Condo, both of whom have joined the NFL. The Terps also have to replace Steve Suter, the ACC career record-holder in returns.

Friedgen said Egekeze has a stronger leg than Novak, but junior Dan Ennis is also in the running. Ennis, a soccer player at Glenelg High and fourth-year walk-on, has impressed the staff with his grit and improvement. In practice, Egekeze makes the first field-goal attempt and Ennis follows.

Special teams coordinator Ray Rychleski said they expect to name the starter after today's scrimmage but will continue to evaluate the duo until the week of the Sept. 3 season opener against Navy. He began charting their kicks Aug. 10.

"I think Coach Friedgen and I are in the mindset that Sunday of game week or Monday of game week, we'll say, 'This is our guy, let's go,' and then it's his job to lose," Rychleski said.

Friedgen said he put some pressure on both kickers Thursday night, and after Egekeze missed his field-goal try, Ennis had his blocked.

"He has the leg," Friedgen said of Egekeze, who hit a 47-yard field goal in the pouring rain during a two-minute drill at practice yesterday morning. "Sometimes he starts before the ball is snapped."

Egekeze, whose full first name is Chukwuemeka (choo-kweh-meh-kuh), finished spring practices about two field-goal percentage points ahead of Ennis. As a senior at Westside High School in Augusta, Ga., Egekeze was nine of 11 on field goals and 21 of 22 on point-after attempts. He twice kicked school-record 54-yard field goals.

His performances caught the attention of Georgia, Ohio State, Texas and Penn State, where his brother, Ndu, played basketball. After his redshirt season last year, Egekeze spent two weeks this summer training with former UCLA standout Chris Sailer in Burbank, Calif.

"He just emphasized the basics," Egekeze said. "He taught me to not overthink everything and trust your swing."

And the two fingers?

"That's one of the little idiosyncrasies I've picked up," he said. "It just helps me get focused."

Ennis didn't play football in high school. After his letter-winning soccer career at Glenelg, the Sykesville resident was determined to join the team he had grown up rooting for. He played in two games in 2003 and converted all four of his point-after attempts. Ennis hasn't had any field-goal attempts and didn't play last year as the backup place-kicker.

"When we got Dan, he was just a skinny little kid who walked on, and he had trouble kicking a field goal from 15 yards," Friedgen said. "He's just worked his butt off. He doesn't have the range Obi has, but he's not too far from it."

With Egekeze and punter Adam Podlesh able to handle kickoffs and a close race for starting place-kicker, Rychleski said he isn't worried about depth. His main concern is who his long snapper will be.

"Good question," he said. "I don't know."

Tim Cesa, who was expected to handle punts, was found to have with mononucleosis. Walk-on Andrew Schmitt, a redshirt freshman whose brother Kyle was a center for the Terps and recently joined the Minnesota Vikings, is the frontrunner.

Brendan McDermond, a River Hill grad, will be the team's short snapper.

"Brendan McDermond barely played high school football, but he can short snap, he's a big body, he has a lot of pride and I need him," Rychleski said. "Hopefully, he'll do the job."

Rychleski is looking at several players to return the ball, including 250-pound tight end Vernon Davis on kickoffs, along with receiver Jo Jo Walker. He has been working with Walker and cornerback Josh Wilson on punts. At today's closed scrimmage, which Friedgen considered canceling because of so many injuries, the Terps will bring in the first-string punt team against the second-string return team and then switch. "It's looking great right now," Friedgen yesterday. "We haven't returned against anybody. It's kind of like we're undefeated."

NOTE: Friedgen said safety Marcus Wimbush and offensive guard Lee Oliver sustained concussions Thursday and wide receiver Danny Melendez had a magnetic resonance imaging test performed on his right knee after experiencing pain Thursday night.

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