Novak kicks his habit

September 10, 2004|by BOB PARASILITI

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - At the rate Nick Novak is going, he's either going to be an NCAA legend or a podiatrist's poster child.

That's because it seems like there is no feat Novak's feet can't perform.

In slightly more than three years, Novak has gone from a near non-scholarship causality to the Atlantic Coast Conference's all-time leading scorer. If all goes well, he could be college football's all-time leading scorer by the end of his fourth year as the Terps' placekicker.

It all seems like a fairy tale, the way the kicker's career has played out, but Novak has excelled using one main theme - confidence. The confidence in himself, the confidence he gets from coach Ralph Friedgen and the confidence that his teammates have in him coming through in tough situations.


"If I'm at the 35, I have no problem going with Nick," Friedgen said. "The three kicks he hit the other day were big."

"The other day" was an 11-point performance in last Saturday's 23-20 win over Northern Illinois. In the process, Novak raised his career total to 335 points to become the top scorer in ACC history while leaving him just 88 points short of tying the NCAA record set from 1988-91 by Houston's Roman Anderson.

Many components have been assembled to make Novak successful, but none has served him better than humility and personal belief.

"You can't be good as a kicker - or in anything - if you don't believe in yourself," Novak said. "You have to know that you are good at what you do no matter what people say and when I go out there and do well, I have to try and keep it all under control.

"I like to say that I'm a perfectionist, but at times that isn't healthy. I don't worry about the past or the future. I just take it one kick at a time. I just believe in myself and make sure I get better every week."

Novak's attitude gives Friedgen an advantage many college coaches don't have. Every coach strives to get to the "red zone" - from the 20-yard-line to the goal line, which is considered prime scoring area.

Friedgen not only has the red zone, he has the Novak zone, which goes from the goal line to the 35.

"It was big for us last week," Friedgen said. "Northern Illinois had a chance at a 53-yard field goal (ball at the 36), but passed it up."

The Friedgen-Novak relationship started in an odd way. Novak, who was promised a scholarship by then-Maryland coach Ron Vanderlinden, approached Friedgen after he took over as coach about the full ride after.

"The second day after I got the job, Nick came to see me and told me that Vanderlinden had offered him a scholarship," Friedgen said. "Well, no coach is going to just give a kicker a scholarship. I told him, 'Not until I see you kick.' Nick said, 'No problem.'"

Novak used the initial pressure Friedgen put on him to his advantage. He went out and put on a kicking show to earn his ride.

"Scholarship or not, I felt I could be successful," said Novak, who paid for his fall freshman semester just to get the chance to kick. "I did really well, but if I hadn't, I would have gotten another chance. Fortunately in college football, kickers get a lot of chances to prove themselves. Coach was patient with me and stuck with me."

Still, it dosen't mean that Friedgen doesn't work on Novak to toughen him up.

Every drill that ends with a kick has a consequence. If Novak hits his kick, everyone can relax. If he doesn't, everyone runs.

"Nick found out he's only as good as his last kick (Monday)," Friedgen said. "We ran a two-minute drill and he missed the kick, so everyone had to run. He came back and hit the next one, though."

That pressure is what has helped Novak become the kicker he is today.

"Friedgen knows how to put pressure on you," Novak said. "If I didn't have those situations, I wouldn't be as successful in the games. Every time I go out, I have to take advantage of it."

His advantages have been Maryland's advantages, since Novak has hit 63 of his last 75 field goals. Now, the NCAA record is in the offing, but it's something Novak won't think about just yet.

"I have high expectations, but I never thought I would hold the ACC record," he said. "I knew I could play at this level. I don't know how successful I could be, but I've gotten better mentally and improved physically. I've surpassed all my expectations."

At this point, Friedgen would like to see Novak get that NCAA mark, but on one condition.

"I would hope he has a shot at that," Friedgen said. "It's going to depend on our offense. I don't want him kicking field goals ... but I hope he can do it with extra points."

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