Brett Maher, in a brilliant debut season, did more than alleviate Nebraska fans’ and coaches’ fears of replacing Alex Henery.
He also proved he’s perfectly suited for continuing an impressive run of solid, accurate Husker kickers.
Over the past decade, the collection of Josh Brown, Dale Endorff, David Dyches, Sandro DeAngelis, Jordan Congdon, Henery and now Maher have combined to hit 80.1 percent of their field goals.
What school has a better percentage of made field goals in the last 10 years?
There isn’t one.
UCLA comes close, at 79.8 percent (on 47 more attempts than Nebraska in that span). Then there’s Utah (78.9), Texas (78.5) and TCU (77.8).
Nebraska, at 149-for-186, is tops.
“We’ve got a line of guys who work hard and really take pride in special teams. That goes from the coaches on down,” Maher said. “I don’t think you find a whole lot of places around the country that treat special teams with the amount of discipline and work it takes as we do around here.”
Maher, a senior, was 19-of-23 on field goals last season, his first as a successor to Alex Henery. He became the first Big Ten player since 2001 to be named both conference kicker of the year and punter of the year.
Now, Maher is on national watch lists for the Ray Guy Award (punter) and Lou Groza Award (kicker). But keep in mind, the most accurate kicker in NCAA history never won the latter.
That guy was Henery, who seemed irreplaceable after going 68-of-76 — 89.4 percent — on field goals over four seasons.
Yet, Maher replaced him. What’s he do for an encore?
“There’s always room for improvement,” Maher said. “I missed four field goals (last season) and definitely miss-hit some punts. I’m just trying to fine-tune some things and get as perfect as I can.”
Maher, whose 19 field goals were second-most in a season in school history, also averaged 44.5 yards a punt, which led the Big Ten. What’s more, he pinned opponents inside their 20-yard line on 24 occasions.
Maher said the double duty didn’t bother him, although a late-season hip injury did. He said he was “nicked up pretty good” when he was tackled after a blocked punt in the Michigan game.
Maher’s only missed field goal from inside 50 yards, as well as his only missed PAT of the season (which was blocked), both came after that injury.
“That took a little juice out of my leg for the rest of the year,” Maher said. “But I didn’t feel like my body was wore out.”
As he did last season, Maher will again be careful to limit his practice kicks and punts as the season progresses.
“During camp, you’re going to get a lot of reps in, and it’s good to get your leg in shape like that,” he said. “But then once the season starts going, you focus more on just hitting ‘X’ amount of really good, sharp kicks instead of hitting a bunch of balls.”
Maher, who kicked with Henery and former Husker punter Kyle Larson in the offseason, said he’s watched every one of his kicks from last season, trying to find tendencies, both good and bad.
“I think my leg’s gotten a little stronger,” he said. “Hopefully it translates into practices and games, hopefully (I) kick the ball a little farther and a little higher. I know my overall strength has gotten better.”