Brett Maher hit 16 of 19 field goals this season, missing none shorter than 50.
By Randy York
With all due respect to Nebraska Special Teams Coach John Papuchis, Husker junior Brett Maher had something outside-the-box going for him in becoming the first Big Ten place-kicker/punter in 10 years to sweep first-team all-conference honors. Call it his own 1-2-3 kicking punch that features Alex Henery, Kris Brown and Kyle Larson, all friends, all NFL kickers and all trusted advisors in Maher’s rapid rise from obscure walk-on to one of the nation’s best kickers. Henery is the most accurate place-kicker in the history of the NCAA. Brown, Nebraska’s all-time leading scorer until Henery overtook him for that honor last season, kicked 256 successful field goals and 355 extra points in his 12-year NFL career. Larson had six highly productive years as an NFL punter.
“All three have had a huge impact on my career as a kicker,” Maher said Tuesday. “More than anything, they’ve helped me learn how to handle the mental stress of being a kicker, how to handle practice and how to handle game day. I spent three seasons with Alex. He’s such a level-headed, calm guy. He never cared what people said or thought about him. He just did what he had to do. He competed every day and obviously, he did pretty well with that approach.” Maher has known Brown since his grade-school years and his role model was a student-teacher at Waverly, Neb., where his dad was a principal. “Kris is the person I’ve looked up to the most since I’ve grown up and tried to be a kicker,” Maher said. “He’s as competitive as anyone I’ve ever seen. The thing I take from him is his competitive fire and how he attacks everything. I’ve talked to Kris and Alex both in the last couple weeks. We try to touch base with each other at least once a month and often twice a month.”
Larson graduated from the same Kearney (Neb.) High School where Maher’s dad now serves as superintendent. “Kyle is probably the most humble, down-to-earth person I’ve ever met,” Maher said. “His whole family’s like that. I’ve had the privilege to know them all. His dad was actually one of my track coaches. He wasn’t a football coach, but was around the program and also a teacher at Kearney High. The last few summers I’ve gone back to Kearney, I’ve kicked with Kyle. We’d meet up and work out, and I’d catch a few pointers. I really enjoyed talking to him and more than anything, just picking his brain and learning about the experiences he’s had and all of the the ups-and-downs of being a kicker. Those summer kicking days have benefited me as much as anything.”
I couldn’t resist asking Maher Tuesday if it’s true superintendent’s kids are smarter than others. “Maybe in most cases, but not in my case,” he replied with a laugh, “I wish I had that problem. I know we should be smarter, but that’s not always the way things are.” Maher was the Nebraska state high school champion in both the pole vault and the long jump. Austin Cassidy, his holder on field goals and extra points this season, also was a Nebraska state high school pole vault champion. No wonder Cassidy almost injured Maher when he kicked his first college field goal, a 50-yarder, last fall in the first quarter of the season-opener. Let the record show, however, that Cassidy’s rather energetic head butt caused no physical damage, helping Maher artfully dodge another trick question. Asked if he thinks he deserves a scholarship next fall as a senior now that he’s All-Big Ten, his reply was as humble as his three role models would have answered and would certainly make a father/superintendent proud. “I don’t get too concerned with stuff like that,” Maher said. “People have to do a lot of number-crunching to get to that point. I’m just thankful to be where I am and experience what I’m experiencing.”
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