Terps measure up

Ennis, Podlesh paying wholesome dividends for kicking game



College Park -- Four years ago, Maryland equipment manager Ron Ohringer was reluctant to hand over pads and a helmet to walk-on kicker Dan Ennis.

At 125 pounds, the scrawny soccer player from Sykesville seemed too small for his first-ever football uniform. Now, after Ennis has made all nine of his field-goal attempts and all five extra points, he and Maryland seem to be the perfect fit.

Ennis, whose accuracy has placed him fifth in the nation in field goals, anchors a kicking game that has flourished while the other phases of the game have struggled to catch up. What began as one of the team's biggest question marks heading into this season has evolved into one of its most dependable resources.

"Anytime we needed something, he's been there for us," coach Ralph Friedgen said. "Even Nick [Novak] last year had trouble doing that.

"What that does is, even though you're disappointed with kicking a field goal when really you'd rather have a touchdown, it keeps the momentum going," he said. "More importantly, it puts points on the scoreboard."

Having never played football before he came to Maryland, and winning the starting job this summer at the expense of injured teammate Obi Egekeze, Ennis has accounted for 32 of the Terps' 88 points this season. Maryland's offense has been in the red zone 17 times and scored six touchdowns. There was also one fumble and one interception. Every other time, Ennis has kept the Terps in the game with a field goal.

And when the offense has been unsuccessful on 11 of 47 third-down conversions and forced to punt, Maryland has looked to the Atlantic Coast Conference's best punter in Adam Podlesh.

"That's our job," special teams coordinator Ray Rychleski said. "Our job is to punt the football, not run fake punts. Our job is to kick field goals, not run fake field goals. Let's do our job; let's do it well. They understand if we have any drop-off, now we're really in trouble."

Last week, Rychleski challenged Podlesh to punt better than Wake Forest's Ryan Plackemeier, who earned first-team All-ACC honors last fall, when Podlesh was named to the second team.

Podlesh averaged 49.7 yards on six punts in Maryland's 22-12 win over the Demon Deacons, with three balls that dropped inside the 20-yard line. His net average for the day was 47.7 yards per kick. Friedgen called them the "dueling punters," but Podlesh won, and was named the ACC's Special Teams Player of the Week.

"I came into the game with a challenge," Podlesh said. "It was a battle back and forth, especially in the second half. Last week was our best performance. We're hoping to build on that."

Novak, the ACC's all-time leading scorer who is now with the Redskins, had the day off and was at practice yesterday with a stopwatch timing Podlesh's hang time. Novak said he has been there for Ennis when he wanted to talk.

Lately, he said, Ennis hasn't needed him.

Despite his recent success, Ennis isn't sure if he's shaken every doubt that clings to a walk-on.

"From the outside, a lot of people don't expect too many walk-on, non-recruited people to really take a commanding role on the team," said Ennis, who has since beefed up to 156 pounds but is still the smallest player on the team. "I'm very fortunate in that sense. From the announcer's standpoint, you hear, `the starting kicker,' and that's what I'm labeled now."

Egekeze, who had a slight edge on Ennis before tearing his hamstring this summer, has been cleared to return to practice. Rychleski said he is hoping Egekeze will take over for walk-on Chris Roberts, who has been handling kickoffs, but not for Ennis.

"Right now, the job is not open at field-goal kicker," Rychleski said. "It's closed."

Even though Egekeze has a stronger leg for distances of nearly 50 yards?

"Obi hasn't proven one thing here at this university," Rychleski said. "Dan Ennis has proven a lot."


VIRGINIA @MARYLAND Saturday, noon, 1300 AM, 105.7 FM, Line: Virginia by 3 1/2

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