ORONO, Maine — University of Maine football coach Jack Cosgrove has lost several key players off last year’s Colonial Athletic Association championship team.
One area where he has plenty of experience is the kicking game.
Place-kicker Sean Decloux and punter Jeff Ondish will begin their third seasons handling those chores for the Black Bears, and both are coming off impressive 2013 seasons.
Decloux earned All-CAA first-team honors and was a second-team Beyond Network Preseason All-American selection and a Beyond Network Preseason All-CAA selection after he made a school-record 16 field goals in 21 attempts in 2013. He also was 45-for-48 in extra points.
Ondish was named to the College Football Performance Awards preseason punters awards list after a 2013 campaign in which he averaged 40.4 yards per punt.
He pinned opponents inside their 20-yard lines on 20 occasions. Ten of his 57 punts carried 50 yards or more and 17 required a fair catch.
“We are as talented at the kicker/punter positions as we’ve been since I’ve been here,” said Cosgrove, who is in his 22nd season as the head coach. “Sean is a very, very talented kicker, and a lot of it has to do with how hard he works.
“He is our best-conditioned player out there, by far,” he added. “He won football games for us last year. He kicked three field goals on the road at Villanova [in a 37-35 win]. He has been improving ever since he got here. Just to know we have an experienced guy who can make pressure kicks is something.”
Cosgrove said Ondish turned the corner last year.
“He is ready to have a great senior year,” the UMaine coach said. “We wanted him to improve his hang time to four seconds, and he has worked on that. He has also gotten better at placing his punts. He has had to learn that in certain situations, we needed him to punt the ball to a certain spot on the field [in order to maximize our coverage].”
Decloux and Ondish are excited for the season and devoted their summers to their improvement.
“This is our third season together. We practice together every day, and we room together on the road. We’re both really excited about this,” said Decloux, a junior.
“We’ve got a little bit of inexperience on our team, so it is up to me and Sean to execute. Field position will be huge for our team this year,” said Ondish.
“The biggest thing I’ve worked on is the mental aspect of my game,” said Decloux. “Most of my misses last year came in bunches. One of the toughest things to do is rebound after a miss. I talked to a sports psychologist this summer.”
Decloux said he loves kicking. He also handles kickoffs.
“There’s not many better feelings than seeing your kick go through the uprights. And no kick is the same. It’s always different and I enjoy facing new challenges like that,” said Decloux.
He said kicking in Canada prepared him for Maine.
“It would be negative-30 [degrees] in Ottawa. It would take five, seven, even 10 yards, off your kick. The ball would be rock-hard,” said Decloux.
Cosgrove will allow Decloux to try longer field goals of 45-plus yards.
Ondish shares Decloux’s passion for kicking and agreed with him on the importance of the mental aspect.
“I love being able to come out every day [and punt]. You can’t help but get better,” said Ondish, a native of Elkton, Maryland. “You need to keep an even keel. You don’t want to get high after a good punt or too low after a bad one. You need to be consistent.”
He said there is a sense of satisfaction when he punts the opponent deep into its own end.
“How many offenses can move the ball 80 to 90 yards down the field? That puts a lot more pressure on their offense,” said Ondish, who trains with punting instructor Charlie Titus at Special Teams Solution in New Jersey during the summer.
Ondish said there is a lot of room for improvement, and that includes his hang time and placement of his punts.
“If you punt the ball 60 yards, you could outkick your coverage. And if they return it 30 yards, the net is only 30 yards. You can’t do that. You have to be selfless and put the ball where the guys can cover it.”