Travis Baltz has had his ups and downs this season. It's a good thing he's on an even keel and can handle it.
The true freshman punter is eighth in the ACC, averaging 40.9 yards per kick with a 36.0 net average. Nine of his 31 punts have landed inside the 20-yard line. Stats aside, Baltz has handled the punting duties well enough for the Terrapin football team.
"He's not ready for the ... Hall of Fame yet," special teams coach Ray Rychleski said. "He's a freshman that's getting better every week and is improving and wants to do really well. [He] takes pride in his work, and he's a work in progress. If he was ready for the Hall of Fame, every punt would be great, but they're not. He's improving, I'm happy with him, and I think he's definitely in the right direction."
Baltz has had his string of sub-par punts, but he's also had some boomers, such as a 65-yarder against Georgia Tech.
Equally impressive is the way Baltz has handled the stress that comes with punting as a freshman, and one who has to follow Adam Podlesh.
"A couple weeks ago, I actually talked to Adam, and he actually told me that no matter what ups or downs - you're punting well, you're punting poorly - always have an even keel," Baltz said.
Baltz has taken that advice, especially for when he shanks a punt.
Running off the field and getting congratulatory smacks on the helmet after crushing a punt is easy, but it's not always fun to walk back to the sideline after one goes off the wrong part of the foot.
"Everybody wants to say I'm thinking about the next one, but it does bother you a little bit," Baltz said. "So you're like, 'I gotta go get the next one,' but really you just need to put it out of your head, say, 'Whatever, it happened' and go get the next one and just not worry about it. But it's a lot easier said than done."
At the beginning of the season, coach Ralph Friedgen was particularly worried about the state of the punting game. With each passing week, Friedgen has been less wary.
"I think he's done a good job for a freshman punter coming in for the first time," said Friedgen, who went out of his way to praise Baltz after his five-punt, 49.6-yard average against Georgia Tech. "A couple times they came out with an all-out rush and he kicked a 60-yarder."
Whether Baltz could get rid of the ball quick enough and still get off a good punt was Rychleski's biggest concern coming into the season.
In Rychleski's seven seasons as special teams coach, the Terps have never had a punt blocked. The overall streak of 91 games is the longest in college football.
"He has improved on that," Rychleski said of Baltz's ability to get the ball off quickly.
And, of course, there are the footsteps Baltz is walking in. Podlesh was always a fan favorite and is now playing in the NFL for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Before Podlesh was Brooks Barnard, one of the nation's top punters when he played for the Terps.
"It's tough to try to live up to those standards, obviously," Baltz said. "But it's a good thing to have people expecting things out of you because if they don't, then whatever, you don't have to do anything if there's no expectations. It's a good thing, but it's tough because it's frustrating because there are those expectations and if you don't perform, everybody's disappointed in you. But it's all the more reasons to get better."
Baltz has gotten better - his coaches acknowledge it, he acknowledges it and fans acknowledge it. But success doesn't take away from the stress of the job, which is yet another reason it's a good thing Baltz can stay on an even keel.
"I think there's pressure Saturday when there's 54,000 homecoming fans in the stands. That's enough pressure for a kid," Rychleski said. "Plus you're following two guys [Barnard and Podlesh]. Nobody cares if he's a freshman; they just wanna see good punts."