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Novak putting best foot forward

November 15, 2002|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Nick Novak is probably one of those guys who have been reincarnated five or six times over the years.

Through history, the University of Maryland place-kicker has probably been an oil well fireman, a kamikaze pilot, a riverboat gambler and maybe even Houdini himself.

Novak is the kind of guy who is used to having his feet - or in this case foot - put to the fire for the sole purpose of getting positive results. But it's that life-on-the-edge kind of adrenaline rush he seems to thrive on these days.

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"All kickers want to be able to go in and help pull out a win. Success is the only option," Novak said of his kicking tasks. "I know the situation. It's all-or-nothing. I love my job and I want to have those opportunities. It makes me stronger (mentally)."

Novak was put to the test once again last Saturday when he kicked a 28-yard field goal with 26 seconds remaining to give the No. 19 Terps a 24-21 win over No. 13 North Carolina State.

The implication of the kick was more far-reaching than just winning a game. It kept Maryland in the race for a second-straight Atlantic Coast Conference title and gave it a chance to play in the Bowl Championship Series again. At the worst, the Terps own second place to themselves behind Florida State.

But for Novak, it was the latest in the line of important kicks he has converted in the last two years. It is almost to the point that he is nearly an automatic choice when the situation presents itself to coach Ralph Friedgen.

Novak struggled early last season, missing on his first five kicks before hitting in the fourth quarter against Wake Forest in the third game of the season.

The redshirt sophomore's defining moment came in the sixth game, a Thursday night special at Georgia Tech. Novak, carrying a 2-for-8 conversion rate, hit a 46-yarder as time ran out to force the game into overtime before hitting from 26 yards to win the game.

"It was a matter of me making that first kick," Novak said. "That was against Wake Forest. After that, I was on a roll. The Georgia Tech kick was pivotal. It wasn't that I didn't have confidence in myself, but I needed to realize that I could do it."

After Georgia Tech, Novak hit 11 of his last 13 field goals last season and has added 15 of 18 kicks this season (84 percent).

"I learned by experience," Novak said. "It was a process to get the touch. (Friedgen) helped me. He learned how to coach me. He learned to leave me alone and let me figure it out for myself."

The suspense and pressure of the job has become something on which Novak has thrived.

"Who doesn't want to be in the situation where you can be a hero and to be in the situation to win games?" Novak said. "I don't go out and ask for it, but it's my job. I don't care about my stats. I just want to do what it takes to help this team win."

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