We don't spend a lot of time discussing, or interviewing, punters and kickers around here.
Nothing against them, it's just that they sometimes seem to occupy their own little planets. Most fans probably don't even think much about them until they shank a field goal or a punt in a big situation.
But we ranked the Big Ten specialists earlier today, and the guy atop that list deserves to be talked about frequently. Nebraska senior Brett Maher had to replace star Alex Henery last season, and all he did was become the first Big Ten player to be named the all-conference punter and place-kicker since 2001. He led the league in punting and drilled 19 field goals, earning All-America honors from some quarters.
How does he follow it up, and just what the heck does a kicker do in the offseason? I tried to find out by catching up with the senior from Kearney, Neb., this week:
After such a great junior year, what have you been working on this offseason?
Brett Maher: I've been trying to get a little bit better at everything. I'm trying to focus on the techniques and details, every little bit that I can get better at. If I do that, I think it will go a long way toward helping the team.
How did you first get started as a kicker?
BM: I did the punt, pass and kick things when I was a younger kid, and I think that's how I kind of got into it. I was also kind of in contact with Kris Brown, who was a kicker at Nebraska, at a young age, so that always kind of kept me motivated and wanting to kick. It's something I really learned to enjoy.
When were you first a kicker on your football team?
BM: In sixth grade.
And did you play other positions?
BM: Yeah, I played wide receiver and cornerback.
You were also a good basketball player and a state champion in the long jump and pole vault. Aren't kickers known for not being good athletes?
BM: I try to be. I tried to do as much as I could.
You had scholarship offers (from Ohio and Colorado State) but walked on to Nebraska. Was it just the lure of your home-state school?
BM: It was a dream of mine to play here since I was a little kid. It's that way for a lot of kids from around the state. Plus, the coaching staff here was starting to change and I liked the way things were heading, so I thought I'd jump on board.
Nebraska has had an excellent tradition on special teams and especially at kicker. What do you think is the reason for that?
BM: I think it's just kind of been something we've been able to pass down to each other. We work with each other every day and hang around with each other. And I think it has to do with what you alluded to earlier as far as being athletes. I think the good kickers who have been here are guys who didn't just kick in high school -- they did other things also. The more chances you have to compete and get under competitive circumstances like we have here, that ends up serving you well in the long run.
Being both a kicker and punter, how much work goes into that?
BM: The workload is probably more than what goes along with just doing one or the other. It's something I think I can handle and the coaches think they can manage. It's worked out pretty well. I just have to make sure I'm getting more quality reps instead of just quantity. It's something I have to monitor a little bit, but I don't feel like it has really slighted my performance in either of them so far.
Do you have to lower your reps as the season goes on?
BM: Camp for a kicker is just the same as it is anywhere else; it's made to make your leg tired and get you in shape, and you get the bulk of reps in there. Once the season hits, it's pretty much a matter of fine tuning things and making sure your leg is fresh for the weekend.
How do you make your leg stronger? Is it more kicks, lifting weights, or both?
BM: I think it's a combination. There are some different kick mobility things you can do, and obviously overall body strength helps with anything and helps with kicking also. And kicking long field goals can help, as well as flexibility.
At a lot of places during practice, kickers are often off working by themselves. Do you ever feel like you're in your own world?
BM: We've got a couple of different special-teams periods throughout practice, so we try to stay in tune with what's going on. That way, we're ready when our time for practice comes. But there are definitely times where we're just kind of standing there watching by ourselves. What we have to do is, we have to find something to get better, to keep us occupied. I think there's got to be an element of discipline that comes with that, especially since we are on our own so much. We could just watch practice and not really do anything. But you've got to do some little things that aren't very taxing on your leg to kind of fine tune some things and keep yourself sharp.
I know you have a punt shield team, but how much fearlessness does it take to stand back there and know guys are running at you and hoping to take out your legs?
BM: I think it probably takes more trust than anything. Just trusting that the guys in front of you are going to do their job. Everyone out there has their own job. They're trusting that I'm going to hit a good ball, and I have to trust that they're going to protect me so I'm able to do that. It's a lot like anything else. There are 11 guys out there, and if one guy has a breakdown it can easily affect the whole play.
Do you ever practice falling down so you can draw a roughing penalty?
BM: [Laughs]. No, I do not. I have never heard of anybody practicing that. But it seems to be a running joke, anyway.
What's the longest field goal you've hit in practice?
BM: I hit one from 64 yards. That's in our indoor facility, which is a pretty controlled environment. So who knows when you get outside, the wind is at your back, wind is in your face, things change and game situations and all that. But that's definitely the outer limits of it.
What the deepest range you feel comfortable at in a game?
BM: It just depends. If it's windy -- and up here in Midwest, who knows what kind of weather you're going to get. If it's warmer, the ball flies better. We go out and get yardages going both ways in the pregame and try to evaluate it each day. I do think I put a couple of yards on from last year, and hopefully that translates into the games this year.
Where's the hardest place you've had to kick?
BM: I think our own place is probably as tough as anywhere. I don't think it gets any more windy anywhere else than it does right here in Lincoln. It's something we're fortunate to have happen, because we're not going to go anywhere else where it's tougher.
Finally, you won Bakken-Andersen Big Ten kicker of the year and Eddleman-Fields Big Ten punter of the year awards last year. Where are those trophies now, and how cool was that?
BM: They're back at my parents' house. That was quite an honor, and it definitely felt like hard work made that well earned. But at the same time, it kept me motivated to try to do that again this year, because I don't think too many people have done that.