ORONO, Maine — A placekicker in football can be a thankless position.
You are called upon to decide a game with one kick. You haven’t been involved in the game other than to kick field goals and extra points and to launch kickoffs. And now the outcome rides on your leg.
You will either be the hero or the scapegoat.
The University of Maine had a quality kicker in Jonny Messina the past two seasons, including the abbreviated four-game spring schedule.
He converted 15 of his 20 field goal attempts, including a 13-for-17 showing last season, and all 37 of his extra-point attempts.
He has since moved on, so redshirt freshman Cole Baker from Wrentham, Massachusetts, has won the job, and Baker was the highlight of the team’s second and final scrimmage on Tuesday afternoon.
He booted two field goals in excess of 40 yards, and the first one, a 43-yarder, looked like it would have been good from 53 yards or even longer. He also hit a 44-yarder and a 38-yarder.
He began kicking as a freshman at King Philip High School Regional High School and hit nine field goals his junior year, including five in excess of 30 yards. He was an all-state kicker and was one-for-one in field goals last year for the Black Bears.
He had a medical setback this summer as he had to have his appendix removed.
“I didn’t get to train as much as I would have liked. But I’m getting my rhythm back. I feel great right now,” said Baker.
He knew the job was open and said he came into training camp with confidence.
“I’ve always felt I had it in me. I’m always getting stronger and better. I work out with coach (Trey) Hall so time will tell how far I can hit it,” said Baker referring to UMaine football’s sports performance coach. “I know I can make the kicks.
“I can’t wait for the season to start,” he added.
He is also working on his kickoffs, he said.
Baker isn’t very big, standing 5-foot-10 and weighing 195 pounds. But he has a powerful leg.
“He has done a great job,” said UMaine first-year head coach Jordan Stevens. “The thing I like about him is even if he misses one, he comes right back and hits the next one. He made a 54-yarder during warmups.
“He definitely has the leg and he works at it, too,” Stevens added.
“He’s going to be great,” said senior defensive lineman Justin Sambu. “We all have confidence in him.”
“He has improved from last year,” noted Josh Lezin, another senior defensive lineman. “He has gotten stronger. His kicks go further.”
Baker has worked on “staying through the ball on my follow-through” and is focusing on being consistent.
The importance of a kicker can be best illustrated by the fact that 13 of UMaine’s last 36 Colonial Athletic Association games have been decided by seven points or less.
And UMaine fans will always remember the 2018 season when the Black Bears reached the Football Championship Subdivision semifinals for the first time in program history thanks to Kenny Doak’s game-winning back-to-back field goals as time expired to supply the Black Bears with a 13-10 win over Villanova and a 38-36 triumph over the University of Rhode Island.
The other highlights at the scrimmage included a long TD pass from back-up quarterback Derek Robertson to Zavier Scott, who caught the pass in perfect stride.
And junior running back Tavion Banks got a lot of carries and churned out a sizable amount of yards.
The starters saw only a handful of reps as the second, third and fourth teamers received most of the action.
Running back Elijah Barnwell, wide receiver and Boston College transfer Kobay White and linebacker Adrian Otero, whose 63 tackles were third-most on the team last year, were among those players who didn’t play as they are nursing injuries.
But Stevens said he expects all three to be ready for the opener at the University of New Mexico on Sept. 3.