Finally, kicking game in range for Terps

August 23, 1994|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Sun Staff Writer

COLLEGE PARK -- As is the custom of football kickers, Brad Rhodes and Joe O'Donnell were off in their own world yesterday.

While approximately 90 other players were out on the field putting the finishing touches on Maryland's practice, the candidates for the Terps' field-goal and kickoff jobs were finishing their work in the weight room. As their teammates stripped off muddy practice gear, Rhodes and O'Donnell kicked back in the players' lounge and took in one of the endless TV talk shows.

Bertice Berry's topic was "Women Married to Unpredictable Men," but coach Mark Duffner hopes none of the wild-man tendencies discussed rubs off on Rhodes and O'Donnell. He wants them to be predictable, as in field goals down the middle, kickoffs that can't be returned, etc.

"Last year, our kicking game was like 'Alfred Hitchcock's Suspense Theater,' " Duffner said. "I'm not ready to say we've got Garo Yepremian in there, but . . ."

Rhodes, a freshman from Gulfport, Miss., and O'Donnell, a sophomore transfer with a season of Division I-AA experience, aren't necessarily destined to work in Super Bowls, but they qualify as an embarrassment of riches after last season, when the Terps didn't have a scholarship kicker.

Junior-college transfer Lonny Calicchio was supposed to fill the kicking and punting needs for last season and this one, but last August the Maryland admissions office found questionable items on his transcript and he was sent home.

Quarterback Scott Milanovich immediately proved to be more than an adequate punter. But a week before the 1993 opener, when Duffner held an open audition for members of the university's soccer team, the Terps were past desperate for a kicker.

Two walk-ons eventually tried field goals, but after they went a combined 1-for-8, Duffner pulled that page from the playbook in late October. Maryland didn't have another field goal the rest of the season.

The opposition's average starting point after a Maryland kickoff was the 31-yard line, further hindering the youngest defense in the nation.

Both the kickoff and field-goal jobs could go to either O'Donnell or Rhodes, or the jobs could be split. A decision will come in two days, after the Terps' second full scrimmage.

O'Donnell had the better showing Saturday in the Terps' first scrimmage. He made a 33-yard field goal and sent one of his two kickoffs into the end zone. Rhodes missed a 47-yard field-goal attempt, had one of his two point-afters blocked and put a kickoff inside the 5-yard line.

The 5-foot-11, 180-pound O'Donnell isn't a typical walk-on. A 19-year-old from Rural Ridge, Pa., a suburb north of Pittsburgh, he was the scholarship kicker for Tennessee-Martin in the Ohio Valley Conference last year as a freshman. He kicked off and was 8-for-14 on field-goal tries and 17-for-19 on extra-point tries.

"The coaches weren't too happy when I left, but it was a 12-hour drive from home and 2 1/2 hours to the nearest airport," O'Donnell said. "My parents went to the games, but they were dead by the time they got there. I wanted to go someplace closer to home. If I get a starting job, I'll get a scholarship next January."

Last season was the first in which O'Donnell concentrated solely on kicking. He played soccer for four years at Fox Chapel Area High.

Rhodes also is adjusting to life as a specialist. He was a standout wingback and safety at St. John's in Gulfport, Miss.

"It's going to be hard having to watch a game from the sidelines, but I know what I'm here for," said Rhodes, who admits he's been surprised by the fight for the kicking jobs. "I knew about Ken [Lytle, a walk-on who did most of the kicking last year], but Joe's really increased the level of competition."

Calicchio, who has resurfaced as the first-team punter at the University of Mississippi, isn't the only former Maryland kicker in Division I. Dave DeArmas, who left the Terps after the 1992 season, will do the kicking and punting at I-AA Connecticut, where he's a junior.

NOTES: Allen Williams, the Terps' projected starter at superback, left Saturday's scrimmage with a bruised left ankle. He expects to be ready to resume practice Thursday. . . . Third-team quarterback Brian Cummings, a redshirt freshman, underwent arthroscopic surgery yesterday to repair torn knee cartilage. . . . Erik Henry, who'll play when the Terps use a tight end, has been sidelined since Wednesday with a sprained right knee, and might not practice until next week.

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