Bondi hopes to carry on Nebraska kicker tradition

(Updates. With AP Photos.)By ERIC OLSONAP Sports Writer

Nebraska kicker Mauro Bondi welcomes the high expectations. He might as well, because they’re unavoidable.

A line of accomplished kickers have come to Lincoln before him, and he’s determined to add his name to the list alongside Kris Brown, Josh Brown, Alex Henery and Brett Maher.

Henery and Maher combined to make 84 percent of their field goals over the past five seasons. The national average during that span was 69 percent.

A wide smile crossed Bondi’s face and he spoke excitedly when the statistic was brought up after a practice this week.

”Ninety-nine percent of the kickers who leave here go to the NFL,” Bondi said, exaggerating for effect. ”As a kid, you want to go to the NFL. Seeing Alex go, and Brett probably is going to go, that gives you hope that if you work hard enough here, you might be able to go to the next level.”

Bondi will go into his sophomore season with a lock on the kicking job and will have it for three years unless someone beats him out. He also is auditioning to punt along with Sam Foltz, who is his holder.

Bondi lost out to Maher in a competition for the kicker’s job two years ago but appeared in the second halves of four easy wins. With Maher the undisputed No. 1 kicker in 2012, coaches redshirted Bondi to save a year of his eligibility.

Now he’s eager to show off the strong leg that made him a scholarship recruit out of Boca Raton, Fla. Special teams coach Ross Els said he hopes Bondi doesn’t get caught up in trying to outdo his predecessors.

”You expect the best out of everybody that you coach,” Els said. ”It’s hard to look back and say, `Hey, this guy did it that way, so why can’t you?’ Everybody is different, but you expect them to produce as well as they can.”

Maher faced a bigger challenge than Bondi does. Originally a walk-on, Maher had to follow Henery, the most accurate kicker in NCAA history and one who, Els said, was ”on another planet” when it came to leg strength.

Maher made 39 of 50 career field goals and earned first-team All-Big Ten honors his final two years.

”If we get that out of Bondi,” Els said, ”we’ll be happy.”

Bondi admitted he struggled mentally last year. He was the backup to Maher and had to suit up for home and away games. He never expected to play.

Els said he almost pulled Bondi out of his redshirt year after Maher shanked punts against Northwestern and Michigan State. Bondi was told to start warming up, but Els and coach Bo Pelini ended up sticking with Maher.

Bondi had difficulty with place-kicking in practice. He couldn’t get much elevation on the ball, and several kicks were blocked. Bondi blamed it on his focus, and Els said he’s confident the problem is corrected.

Els said Bondi was inconsistent in the most recent scrimmage and that he wants to put him in pressure situations in the final practices before the annual Red-White Game on April 6. But Els said he knows Bondi is striking the ball well – not because he can see it but because he can hear it.

”It’s a good `thump’ coming off the ball. It’s that sound,” Els said. ”There is a `splat’ and there’s a `thump.’ When you hear a `splat,’ it’s not very much power. He’s got that `thump.’ ”

Bondi passed on a scholarship offer from Wake Forest to accept Pelini’s offer in 2011. Part of the attraction was the tradition of kickers at Nebraska.

Kris Brown kicked for 12 seasons in the NFL until 2010. Josh Brown this month signed as a free agent with the New York Giants and is going on 11 years in the league. Henery will be entering his third season with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Maher is projected to be a late-round draft pick after impressive showings at the scouting combine and in individual workouts.

Bondi is like other kickers in that he believes he’s immune to pressure, so he embraces the challenge of being next in line at Nebraska.

”I’ve got to live up to it and do better if I can,” he said. ”I’m going to try to do my style of kicking, try to just do what I can to keep the run of kickers going and maybe start my own legacy.”