“Defense wins championships.”
One of the most famous sports clichés, football fans have heard those words hundreds, if not thousands, of times before. At Nebraska, that cliché has rung true for many years. However, a new position has taken the spotlight in Lincoln, Neb., making a case for just how vital it may also be to winning it all.
Mauro Bondi knows he is up for a challenge in 2013. Bondi finds himself as the man projected to take the reins from former punter/placekicker Brett Maher. Anywhere else, someone might just say, “Oh, he’s just a kicker.” At Nebraska, it’s much more important than that.
The Huskers have become known for their kicking talents. From Sam Koch to Alex Henery, the list is impressive. Nebraska had the most alumni with starting jobs as a placekicker or punter in the NFL in 2011. The nickname of “Kicker U” has been rightfully earned.
Ross Els, special teams coordinator, acknowledges the strength both Henery and Maher had at Nebraska. However, Els believes Bondi has it in him to be just as successful.
“Much like Brett Maher two years ago, we said ‘Brett, you’re a pretty good kicker. Let’s see what happens.’ He ended up being the all-Big Ten kicker and punter. If we get that out of Mauro, we’ll be really happy,” Els said.
Bondi redshirted his 2012 season after seeing little action in 2011. It was a challenging decision for the Boca Raton, Fla. native, as he was ready to have his chance on the field.
“It was hard sitting on the sidelines this year. I really wanted to kind of get my feet wet and get used to being on the field. They wanted me here for another three years so they said we’d like to redshirt you,” Bondi said.
Redshirting Bondi allowed Maher to “coach” the young kicker. Bondi recognized the positives of having the NFL-hopeful near to help point out his mistakes. Maher also helped him become more sound in his technique. “Brett’s really helped in that regard.”
The NFL potential is there for Bondi, who has plenty of time as a Husker to forge his own path. If successful, he would join the ranks of Baltimore Ravens’ Koch, who now boasts a Super Bowl championship, Henery, who is entering his third season with the Philadelphia Eagles, Kris Brown, who kicked for 12 seasons in the NFL until 2010 and the hopeful Maher who is projected to be drafted this spring. Bondi is in good company.
To become successful though, Els admits the coaches are putting Bondi under a lot of pressure in order to see how he responds. “We’re putting him under fire as much as we can.”
With the Spring Game only a week and a half away, it will be a big opportunity to see just what Bondi can do. Els is confident he will handle the challenge.
“I think he’ll respond well.”
As spring practice continues, Bondi will still have some competition at punting from his holder, Sam Foltz of Grand Island, Nebraska. There are also aspects of his kicking, such as his elevation, which will need some additional work.
“He’s getting under the ball better (now). He’s got a good thump coming off the ball too. It’s that sound. There’s a splat and there’s a thump and he’s got a thump. When you hear a splat, it’s not very much power. He’s hitting the ball really well,” Els said.
Ultimately, Bondi finds himself looking to become the next “leg” at Nebraska. Having passed on a scholarship from Wake Forest in 2011, Bondi knew Pelini’s group was where the kicking tradition was in college football.
Defenses may win championships, as the famous cliché goes, but, at Nebraska, it may take just a little bit more – a kicker.