In one of Maryland football’s fall camp practices, the team ended the day with a two-minute drill on offense simulating a tie contest. The goal of the exercise was to march down the field to set up kicker Joseph Petrino with the chance to kick a game-winning field goal, preferably from long range. That plan culminated with him attempting a 50-yard bomb to give his team the victory.
“I’m going to ice Petrino,” the sophomore recalls head coach Mike Locksley joking before the play. He nailed the attempt regardless, impressing his head coach.
“That was awesome,” Petrino said on capping the scrimmage on such a high note. “It was fun. So it felt good making that and then he shouted me out at the end of practice.”
He says he’s been routinely making kicks of 53 and 55 yards, and that could be his new range come gameday.
“We wanted it to be a long field goal,” Locksley said on Saturday. “He nailed it right through with a lot of distance to spare.”
As a true freshman last season, Petrino started the 2018 campaign by making his first 11 field goals. He wound up converting 12-of-14 — falling off a bit with two missed kicks in the final two games — but still finished with a great mark for a first-year kicker. However, that number is a bit misleading. While Petrino was effective, interim head coach Matt Canada was hesitant to utilize the three-star prospect in anything more than relatively easy situations.
Of his 14 field goal opportunities last season, 12 of Petrino’s attempts clocked in at 39 yards or fewer. The only kicks that exceeded that figure were a 40-yard strike against Bowling Green — Petrino’s longest career make — and a 49-yard boot in the penultimate game of the season against Ohio State, a kick that had the requisite distance but was pulled a bit wide left.
There’s something to be said about allotting a young player time and experience to settle in and calm the nerves. But there were instances in which the team may have played things a bit too safe. Against Texas, Bowling Green and Michigan State, the Terps opted to forgo a 50-plus yard kick in favor of punting, not allowing Petrino to showcase his big leg.
“At first, I wanted to get the hang of it,” Petrino said after practice on Tuesday. “When I first started, early on in the season, I didn’t want to have my first kick be a very long one. I did like how they let me get into a groove, but now, I want to kick longer ones.”
With the newly-installed Locksley in charge in College Park, it seems as though the training wheels have been removed and Petrino will be unleashed on the opposition.
And while Petrino seems to have upped his game entering his second season in the program, the special teams unit as a whole is filled with question marks. Following the transfer of Wade Lees to UCLA, the Terps are without a definitive starting punter. Three-year starting long snapper Matt Oliveira also transferred out of the program, leaving the team without its snapper and holder to guide Petrino in the coming year.
“I’ve been working with a new holder this year, so that’s been something I’ve been trying to work a lot on, basically a new snapper as well,” Petrino said. “But we’ve been getting a lot of work in, and I feel very confident this year.”
Confidence is extremely important in all sports, but it plays a particularly vital role for kickers. It’s common to see a once-great kicker go through the yips and be rendered ineffective, so maintaining a positive mindset and staying composed can go a long way into prolonged success.
“He’s really hitting it well,” Locksley said. “He’s been really consistent, really confident. That’s a plus with kickers, having that confidence up. Some of the situations we put him in [Saturday], seeing him execute was good to see.”