The only way Anthony Wayne kicker Travis Baltz knew he wasn t just a 10-year-old boy who was dreaming of playing before 70,000 fans was when he saw his face on the JumboTron.
Baltz, a senior who has earned a scholarship to kick for the University of Maryland, qualified to compete in the NFL s Punt, Pass and Kick competition for youths at Cleveland Browns Stadium prior to a game when he was 10.
"I just remember looking at the JumboTron and I saw myself. I ll never forget my own face and the huge smile I had," said Baltz, a two-sport standout for the Generals. "We competed before the game, but I got to throw a pass at halftime for show. I remember being in the tunnel and seeing all the pros walk by. I just remember how big they were compared to me."
Flash-forward seven years and Baltz is booming balls both football and soccer even farther. This season, he has averaged 40 yards per punt and 84 percent of his kickoffs have gone for touchbacks. He is 26 of 27 on extra-point attempts and three of three on field-goal tries (a 37-yarder his longest).
Baltz, All-Blade and all-district in 2005, nailed kicks of 23 and 27 yards in AW s 34-33 overtime win against Clay on Sept. 1.
In soccer, Baltz is a sweeper and has scored two goals and has two assists for a team that is ranked fourth in the state in Division I. The Generals are 13-1-2 and champions of the NLL with a 7-0-0 mark.
Baltz has juggled both sports since he was a sophomore and believes both complement each other by helping his leg strength.
"I don t mind sharing him," said AW football coach Craig Smith. "He s huge for field position with punting and kicking off."
Generals soccer coach Tom Shook said allowing soccer players to kick for the football team is now commonplace because it simply makes sense.
"Travis is a tremendous athlete," he said. "He s very smart and he takes care of everything in the back. If there is a play to be made, Travis makes it for us."
Baltz credited former Bowling Green State University punter Andy Pollock for initially showing him proper technique. Pollock, who kicked at Maumee, was the Falcons punter from 1996-98.
"At first he helped with all the little stuff," Baltz said. "But then he showed me lots of things. He worked with my punting the most because that is what I struggled with."
Pollock said Baltz grew up next door to his sister in Waterville and he has known Baltz since Baltz was 6 years old.
"I used to work with him in the front yard," Pollock said. "I knew he had the talent back in eighth grade. He just did not have the mechanics. I helped him with his drop and follow through."
Pollock, who averaged 44.9 yards per punt at BG, said he believes Baltz can handle all three kicking responsibilities at Maryland.
"I still give him a little advice on some things," Pollock said. "In my travels through BG, I did all three and I expect that out of him, too."
Under Pollock s tutelage, Baltz took over the kicking duties full time at AW as a sophomore.
"I finally got how it worked and I could hit it a lot better," Baltz said.
Both said most people are unaware of the nuances involved in kicking.
"Everyone can have a strong leg, but you have to have the technique," Baltz said. "It s a lot more in-depth than a lot of people would think."
Baltz said a punter must hold the ball a certain way, drop the ball properly and strike it with the foot at an exact angle. Keeping the leg straight and following straight through are pivotal, he said.
After his sophomore season, Baltz started attending college kicking camps.
"It snowballed for me then, I wanted to know more and more," Baltz said.
Baltz has gone to the Ohio State camp three times and attended clinics at Eastern Michigan, Michigan State, Northwestern, Bowling Green, Arizona and Maryland. He said Maryland and Northwestern showed the most interest. Baltz said he kicked in front of Northwestern coach Randy Walker just eight days before he died last summer.
"My dad told me on the phone and I couldn t believe it," Baltz said. "I was really interested in them and they were interested in me."
Baltz said his father, Jim, devised a plan where the two went through every Division I roster and determined which schools would need a punter in the near future. They sent highlight tapes to those who would need kickers.
"I was like a little pest to the special teams coach at Maryland," Baltz said. "I kept calling him. I just decided I wanted to be a Terrapin. They have the academics and they have a great football team and great coaches."
Baltz, who committed in August, said he wanted to get the decision out of the way so he could enjoy his senior year. Both kickers at Maryland are seniors and Baltz thinks he could handle all the kicking chores.
"I m looking forward to going there and competing," he said. "I don t have a preference. The more skills I have to contribute, the better."
Baltz has been invited to participate in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio next January.
Baltz also is on schedule to graduate early in January so that he can enroll at Maryland in time to participate in spring drills. He has a 4.39 grade-point average and is currently ranked No. 1 in his class.
He still has a Tim Couch Browns jersey from his NFL Punt, Pass and Kick days, but will always remember the crowd the most.
"I haven t really thought about kicking in front of that many people again," he said. "I m just concentrating on this season. Right now I m still a General and I want to win some titles."
Contact Mark Monroe at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6110.