Jack Howes began preparing for his game-winning kick the second Maryland’s offense took over.
With just over 3 1/2 minutes left in a tie game against Nebraska and the wind at the Terps’ back, the kicker knew, if the offense got anywhere close to his range, he’d get the call from coach Michael Locksley to try to break a four-game losing streak and make Maryland bowl eligible.
Howes started by loosening his quads and hamstrings. Then came a few one-steps — a contact drill that helps simulate the final leg drive — and a few more practice kicks with holder Colton Spangler replacing the tee.
With about 50 seconds left, Howes stopped kicking — it was now time for mental preparation. A three-step mantra played on a loop in his mind. One: Take a short jab step to start your run-up to the ball. Two: Once Spangler gets the ball down, find the spot on it you want to strike. Three: Swing your leg through; don’t shortchange yourself.
The tercet repeated until Locksley called a timeout with three seconds left and the ball at the 7-yard line, making it a 24-yard field goal. Maryland’s offense walked off the field, and quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa came up to Howes.
“You do what you [expletive] do, Jack. You do what you do!” the quarterback said.
The two often play golf together, and the quarterback reminded his kicker that it was just a chip shot, miming a little swing as well.
Howes walked onto the field and looked over the uprights. Usually, he’d have predetermined a landmark to stare at during Friday in-stadium walk-throughs. But, during an earlier field goal attempt, fans had blocked the visual cue and forced him to adjust.
This time, Howes just tilted his vision upward. He tried to separate the magnitude of the kick from its process, but a small part of him couldn’t help but think about how he’d celebrate after making it. He found out after a clean snap, clean hold and a walk-off field goal that marked a seminal moment for a kicker who’d weathered early-season struggles.
“It’s something not like anything else in sports. ... It’s something I’ll never forget,” Howes said.
Howes, mostly to avoid being swamped by his teammates, sprinted down the field with his arms out until his fellow Terps joined him in celebration.
“I don’t think I stopped screaming on that run,” he said.
Later in the locker room, he received a shoutout from Locksley. He also shared a moment with special teams analyst Matt Simon. Simon was one of the key organizers in the Terp Field Goals for Pecorella program, which gathers donations for cancer research. Anthony Pecorella, a former Maryland punter, was diagnosed with lymphoma in August.
“I think he was almost in tears,” Howes said of Simon. “I don’t know if he was, but he was like, ‘Pec would be so proud.’”
The game-winner wasn’t Howes’ first. With Edgewater High School down one with just seconds left in the state semifinal, he bounced in a 40-yarder off the crossbar to send his squad to the next round.
“I wasn’t surprised when he did it because of his work ethic and his preparation,” Edgewater coach Cameron Duke said. “I’ve been a head coach for 10 years, I’ve been coaching for over 20 and I’ve never had a harder-working athlete.”
Howes sat for two years at Maryland, most recently behind Chad Ryland. Ryland, a fourth-round draft pick of the New England Patriots, set a high bar for Terps kickers by making 19 of 23 attempts and 39 of 40 extra points.
Howes couldn’t meet those standards in an inconsistent start to the season. He missed his lone field goal attempt in the season opener against Towson. He made all three of his field goals against Charlotte but made just four of eight field goals across the next five games.
He also struggled with kickoffs. He notched touchbacks over 84% of the time through the first three weeks, a figure that dropped to just over 65% in the next five. He dealt with a right adductor (thigh) strain for part of that stretch.
“I think it was a combination of [the injury and execution],” Howes said, pointing to the Michigan State game when he made a 48-yard attempt but missed from 40 and 29. “It wasn’t the injury that was holding me back in that game. ... Usually kicking [kickoffs] in the end zone or hanging them up there ... I just, I wasn’t able to do that.”
That didn’t drop Maryland’s confidence in him.
“Jack, he’s clutch,” Tagovailoa said after the Nebraska win, “and we know, if we get close enough, Jack is going to end the game for us.”
“Jack’s a young kicker that is going to be really, really talented. He’s got a lot of football left in him,” Locksley added Tuesday. “Did not have one hesitation about whether or not he’d make that kick. He does it in practice. ... I have a lot of faith and confidence in him, and he came through big for us.”