Nebraska's Maher out to create own 'footprints'
Nebraska holder Austin Cassidy offered some pre-snap encouragement as Brett Maher lined up for the first field goal of his college career.
''Chip shot,'' Cassidy said, looking back at Maher.
Some chip shot - 50 yards into a gusty north wind.
Maher cleared the bar with at least 5 yards to spare. And then a figurative gust blew through Memorial Stadium, that being a collective sigh of relief from Cornhuskers fans who were concerned about life after Alex Henery.
Those same fans might have been saying ''Alex Who?'' after Maher followed with field goals of 48, 34 and 21 yards, and an average of 52 yards on four punts in Saturday's win over Chattanooga. His work earned him Big Ten special teams player of the week honors.
''I feel good about the day I had,'' Maher said Monday, ''but if I go out and lay an egg next week, this last game doesn't mean much.''
Henery is a tough act to follow. He achieved rock-star status in these parts for making kick after kick. He hit 68 of 76 career field goals - with Maher the holder on 42 of them - to become the most accurate kicker in NCAA history. He's now with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Like Henery, Maher came to Nebraska as a homegrown walk-on who won both the punting and kicking jobs.
The comparisons are inevitable.
''I think it's a little bit of motivation, but at the same time I'm trying to be my own person and make my own footprints here,'' Maher said.
The 6-foot, 185-pound Maher was a receiver as well as kicker at Kearney High. He also was a star guard on the basketball team and a state-champion long jumper. But he said if he wanted to play football at Nebraska - ''kind of a childhood dream'' - he knew it would have to be as a kicker.
He passed on football scholarship offers from Colorado State and Ohio University to walk on with the Huskers.
''Every kid growing up wants to play here and have an opportunity to contribute to a program like this,'' he said. ''I had that opportunity, and I felt that I would maybe have some regrets if I didn't take it.''
Maher was no heir apparent to Henery. Coach Bo Pelini recruited a scholarship kicker, Mauro Bondi of Boca Raton, Fla., to compete for the job in preseason practice.
''I think they just needed another guy here,'' Maher said. ''If you look at the roster, it's just me and him. From their standpoint, they had to make sure someone was going to be here from a depth perspective. I don't think that it was a slight on anyone else who was here.''
Now that Maher has won the job, he won't be lobbying for a scholarship. He'll be judged by his legwork.
Henery, after all, didn't get a scholarship until his third year as starting kicker.
''I'm not too worried about whenever that happens,'' Maher said.
Maher has kicked 60-yarders in practice, and he hit a 54-yarder in a preseason scrimmage.
Maher already had kicked off, punted and hit an extra point when he was called on late in the first quarter to try his 50-yarder.
''My nerves had kind of settled,'' he said.
Cassidy almost made Maher laugh with the ''chip shot'' comment.
There are no gimmes when 85,000 fans are watching.
Pelini said he wasn't surprised Maher made the kick with plenty of room to spare.
''He showed he has a big leg,'' Pelini said. ''Obviously, for a kicker, the truth will be told on how consistent he can be. Can he keep doing it that way? That's a heck of a start for him. I was happy for him. That should only breed confidence for him for what he has coming up.''