COLLEGE PARK -- Nick Novak isn't a kicker. He's a football player. Just ask his coach, Maryland special teams coordinator Ray Rychleski.
"He thinks he's a tough guy," Rychleski said. "He can't wait to run down on kickoff coverage. He made, I think, three tackles last year for us. He gets his noggin bumped a little bit, but he relishes it."
And if you think the Terps discourage that kind of behavior from Novak -- an All-America candidate who might be 190 pounds soaking wet -- you'd be wrong.
"We get him in the mix," Rychleski said. "This is a team. He knows his role, but he knows nobody is different from anyone else. The kids really respect him for that."
In two years as a starter, Novak has earned the respect of those outside College Park, as well, namely by making clutch kicks for the Terps in big games.
Novak hit 24 of 28 field-goal attempts last season, and Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said he has looked like he could be even better this year. During fall two-a-day practices, Novak has been booming kicks from 50-plus yards with regularity, and if he matches his point total from a year ago (125), he'll pass Jess Atkinson (1981-84) as Maryland's all-time leading scorer (308 points). Right now, the junior sits in sixth place with 214.
"I feel confident," Novak said. "I feel stronger than last year. I'm ready to contribute again."
Novak spent the off-season working on his technique and flexibility, and spent a session working with kicking guru Bill Renner, the director of 4th Down Sports, a camp specifically for kickers. Right now, he's just working on developing some chemistry with holder Adam Podlesh, the team's punter.
"I learned a lot in the summer," Novak said. "I think my mechanics are where they need to be. When I first came in, my chest was up a lot. Now I'm following through and keeping my head down better. A lot of guys have strong legs. But the difference is technique and the ability to perform under pressure."
Novak has proved he can handle that as well. He hit the game-winner against N.C. State last season, and in 2001 he nailed a 46-yard field goal against Georgia Tech to force overtime, which helped put Maryland on the national scene.
This year, his teammates held him in high enough regard to vote him onto the Terps' team leadership council. Of the 11 members, he's one of only three non-seniors.
"You don't see too many kickers and punters on that council each year," Rychleski said. "That says a lot about Nick."
Maryland's practice was twice interrupted by lightning and heavy rain yesterday.
"I was on the tower the second time it happened," Friedgen joked. "With the luck we've been having lately, I figured it was probably time to get inside."
Scrimmage on tap
The Terps are planning to hold a 120-play scrimmage today starting at 2:20. The entire practice will be open to the public, and the first-team offense and defense should each get around 50 plays, Friedgen said.
"I've not really been very pleased with our hitting thus far," Friedgen said. "That's been my only area of concern. Hopefully we'll get after it a bit [today]."
Eli gets an EKG
Junior defensive end Kevin Eli was taken out of practice Friday after he complained of an irregular heartbeat. Friedgen said Eli was given an EKG test Friday night, and when the results came back, doctors decided to check him into the hospital as a precautionary measure.