COLLEGE PARK, Md. —The University of Maryland has kept Nick Ferrara around just for kicks.
That’s because he has been the only one able to put the foot into football for the Terrapins the last three years.
Ferrara has been the ultimate multitasker when it comes to Maryland’s special teams. He has handled all three phases of kicking the ball — punting, kickoffs and field goals — for two of his three years at Byrd Stadium. And he is prepared to do it again in his senior season.
But if Maryland coach Randy Edsall has one wish — after becoming a winning team — he would use it for Ferrara. He just wants to let the poor guy have a little time on his hands.
“With Nick coming off injury, we would like for him just to do one thing,” Edsall said. “But if he is our best kicker, punter and field goal guy he will do that. We are bringing in Brad Craddock and Nate Renfro and I would like for one of them to be our punter and Nick just kick for us.”
That would be a novel approach to playing football. The idea of being able to pay attention to the game would be something completely different. And yet, it would also be a little disorienting.
“I’ve been doing it for two of the last three seasons already,” the senior said. “(One kicking assignment) is ultimately what they want, but if I have to keep doing it, I’ll do everything to the best of my ability. This is going to be a competitive training camp, though, and I haven’t had that.”
Ferrara has been throwing up his leg more than a Rockette in his three years at Maryland.
He was a freshman all-American placekicker in 2009, but had dual citizenship on the special teams, doubling as the punter in the last five games after Travis Baltz got injured.
Ferrara went to the other extreme in 2010 when he spent the entire season as a kickoff specialist. He fell to the second string and missed the first two games with a groin injury and was never able to overtake Baltz to get his job back.
But he made up for it all last season. Ferrara was the kickoff specialist, but also scored 63 points as a placekicker and averaged 39.5 yards on 57 punts. The problem was Ferrara hit on only 12 of 20 field goal attempts and missed two extra points along the way.
“Punting and kicking are completely different,” Ferrara said. “It is difficult to learn to acclimate yourself to doing both. If they get me to one way of kicking, I’ll be able to work to fix what I’m doing wrong.”
Part of Ferrara’s difficulties in 2010 came as his injury worsened. He had surgery to repair a torn groin muscle in the offseason. He missed spring practice and threw the door open for Craddock and Renfro to come in and provide the much desired competition.
But Ferrara would probably be considered a paradox. As much as he wouldn’t mind competing solely in one kicking discipline, he would probably miss doing the others.
“It’s the worst when we have the ball and get down to the 34-40 yard line,” Ferrara said. “It’s hard to decide whether to warm up to kick a field goal or if I should be working on my punting. I’ll be working on my placekicking and then we lose yardage. All of a sudden, I’m firing my tee off to the side and start stretching to punt.”
Maybe the toughest thing about getting down to one style of kicking is the idea that he loses one of his badges of pride.
The Terrapins have had their share of good kicking specialists over the years. Nick Novak has made a mark as a professional placekicker. He has played for a few NFL teams, most recently San Diego.
On the punting front, Brooks Barnard, Adam Podlesh and Baltz have all have had Sunday employment over the years.
“It’s a lot of tradition that a lot of people don’t see a lot,” Ferrara said. “Maryland has had a lot of great kickers. It is a secret fraternity.”
But still, working as a multifaceted kicker is like being a rope in a tug-of-war.
Ferrara is in demand at times during practice, but spends a lot of time working largely by himself. He is a jack of all trades trying to be a master of all.
It is even to the point where his instructors are trying to make him their personal teacher’s pet.
“My punting and kicking trainers have a battle going on,” he said. “They are each trying to get me to tell the other coach that I like doing their style of kicking better.”
So Ferrara finds himself having a tough time trying to figure what role he’d like to fill. The easiest out is “whatever the team needs from me.”
“I don’t know how this year will be. It’s the first I have been healthy in a while,” he said in a right brain moment.
Then the left brain kicks in.
“I’m no different than anyone else,” Ferrara said. “If I could only have to do one, I’d be a lot better at the one I do.”