Former Terp Novak Talks Obi, Kicking
I talked to current Kansas City Chiefs kicker and former Maryland kicker Nick Novak on the phone for a while about Obi Egekeze and kicking in general for my story that ran today. Check out my piece on Egekeze's turnaround. And here is some of the Q&A I conducted with Novak:
Q: How aware were you of Obi Egekeze’s struggles earlier, and what advice did you give him?
Novak: I heard about them [the misses] and saw the fifth one. I saw what he was doing. After that, I told him he needed to trust his swing, attack the ball. Some guys have a tendency to get tight their senior year. You have to trust your swing and feel like you are giving each kick 100 percent and that you are not leaving anything behind. That you are not trying to aim it or wish or hope it through. There is my target, let’s hit it. Those were the words I was putting in to him. Make sure you see the ball, make sure you don’t rush it. The ball is down, see that the laces are out and hit the sweet spot on the ball. Make sure you don’t rush. Because of his big body, he is a bigger kicker, it’s important a guy like that doesn’t get his head out in front of the ball because his leg has to catch up. Those were the things I was telling him. He knows all this. We kick together in the offseason and help each other out and say things one guy may need to work on. We just push each other. Whenever I am in town I compete against him and Dan Ennis. A month before I went to training camp, I went to Maryland and did all my training. We kicked three days a week. You have to stay relaxed and go after the ball. Just believe. Have faith that everything you have done up to gameday will put you in position to be successful. Don’t have any ounce of doubt that creeps in your head. If it does happen, you have to get rid of it right away. Just positive reinforcement. Stay positive no matter what, even if it doesn’t go the way you want it to go, you have to hit the next kick. All kickers go through what Obi has gone through, and the ones that are successful are the ones who can make the next kick. It’s a tribute to his character to stay focused and to not listen to any doubt people can put in your mind. You have to have 100 percent confidence.
Q: How much of kicking is sheer confidence?
Novak: It’s all confidence. You can go 100 percent all week in practice and warm-ups, and you get out there, you have to believe all the preparation you have done… Basically you don’t think. You just want to react and let your body work for you. Don’t overthink everything. He is obviously good enough to play at the next level and good enough to make every kick that he has missed. It’s just a process you have to go through and he hasn’t gone through it yet. Something he will be able to grow from. He has obviously grown from it the last five field goals. When Friedgen gave him competition in practice, I thought that was a smart move just to push him.
Q: I talked to Jan Stenerud, who said he never felt he was in a slump, regardless of whether he had missed a couple kicks. You agree?
Novak: I agree with that. As a kicker you have to believe you will hit every kick. I asked Chan Gailey, of all the kickers you have worked with, what’s one common denominator, they are over-confident and know they will make every kick. If they miss one, they make the next one and move on. I would never use the word slump. You miss a kick, okay, no matter what people are saying in the stands, your teammates and coaches are there for you.
Q: You used to tell me you would make a tape of all the kicks you had made, just to reinforce that confidence.
Novak: You learn from the ones you miss. You learn from the ones you make. The ones you miss you don’t do that ever again. Anything that will promote confidence. See yourself be successful the night before the game. You want to visualize the kick the night before a game, visualize it on third down.
Q: Obi told me about a fraternity of kickers that help support one another. Is that the case?
Nova: We all hold each other to a high standard. We all hold each other accountable. People should understand we want to make that field goal more than anyone else out there, teammates and fans. Any kicker is harder on himself than any critic, coach, fan. We understand each other’s mindset. When we see a guy not be successful for any reason, you want to get to him as quickly as possible and say this is what you did. You miss a kick, you miss a kick. You don’t want to overanalyze it. But if you see it over and over again and feel you can help you call. But most of the time we don’t say anything, okay, you miss a 48 or 53 yarder. You miss a short one and you want to talk about that.
Q: How important is it to keep your head down and see the foot contact the ball?
Novak: You want to bring your head up when your foot comes down from your follow-through. If you get in the habit of looking up when your follow-through is still in the air, you want to see the result before it goes through, instead of focusing on the process, making good contact and trusting your swing. Take care of everything you can control, trust it will go where you kicked it. And then look up. If you get in the habit of looking too quickly, your hips will go, your shoulders will go out. That’s good he is doing that. Reinforcing your mindset. I trust my swing and this ball will go 100 percent where I want it to kick it. You approach practice like a game. I always want to put as much pressure as possible on myself in practice.
Q: In what ways are you a better kicker now than you were in college?
Nova: I am a lot stronger. The experience as a pro, being able to work with veteran kickers and learn. Onside kicks, try to get one bounce onside kick. I didn’t have that in college. I have always thought of myself as a guy who can make a pressure kick and come through when the team needs me the most. I pride myself on that. That is something Coach Friedgen always pounds in all his kickers. He puts a lot of pressure on us in college. My strength has improved. I have always been confident but the successes and failures I have experienced, the adversity I have experienced, has given me the confidence I need to be successful in the league now.
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