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Not quite a fairy tale
Novak, center, enjoys San Diego as a five-year-old with twin brother Chris (left) and older brother Andrew (right).
SAN DIEGO – Nick Novak’s right leg is a kicking mercenary.
Since he graduated from the University of Maryland in 2004, Novak’s bounced around the continental United States like a pinball.
That list fails to mention a year-long stint with the Cologne Centurions in Germany during NFL Europa’s final season in 2007.
“I wouldn’t describe it as a fairy tale,” Novak said of his professional career. “I’ve made my rounds and paid my dues.”
Chart his path on a map and it resembles a child’s scribbling more than a circle.
But those experiences have led him back to San Diego, where he lifted weights Monday just minutes from his birthplace.
“It was always a job that I really, really wanted as a professional athlete regardless of the situation. I wanted to be a part of the Chargers,” he said. “This feels like home more than any team I’ve been on.
“This is more than a dream come true. I’m actualizing it and I feel like I’m performing at a very high level regardless of what happens. I think good things will come out of this.”
Novak has spent his down time revisiting his favorite spots, including Del Mar and Coronado. That’s quite the contrast to his trek across Germany, where he joked “danke” (thank you) and “bitte” (you’re welcome) amounted to his entire German vocabulary.
He felt ignorant but returned to the States impressed with the intellectual acumen of Europeans that often speak three and four languages.
Novak speaks Chargers well. He grew up with Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Kellen Winslow II, whose father still holds the franchise record for career receiving yards by a tight end (Antonio Gates trails him by 518 yards). The two became good friends at five years old.
The 28-year-old journeyman kicker now practices with long snapper David Binn, punter Mike Scifres and place kicker Nate Kaeding, who are entering their seventh season together on special teams.
Calling them “probably (the) best in the league,” he considers that a boost to his career and remains frank about his long-term chances to stay in Southern California.
Novak spent last year watching games on TV, his first season without a professional kick since he left Maryland. But Organized Team Activities (OTAs) have offered him a chance to return to the field, where he’s gotten plenty of reps during special teams periods.
“The most important thing for me was to get back on an NFL roster and to practice at this level on a daily basis regardless of the situation,” he said. “I couldn’t go around choosing the perfect situation for a competition. This is as good as it gets for me at this point in my career.
“As long as I focus on me and do the best I can, good things will come from it. That’s my attitude and I’ve got a great group of teammates that I think will help me become the best kicker that I can be. I have the utmost respect for all three of them. I’m not even focused on whether I’ll be here long term. My goal is to do my job the best I can.”
Novak started his NFL career by making eight-of-10 field goals but is 11-of-20 since. He harkens back to his days with the Terrapins when he survived a poor start to his redshirt freshman season to become one of the team’s all-time leading scorers.
Three of Novak’s 22 NFL games have ended with a field goal that soared off his right instep and through the uprights. He also has averaged 63.3 yards a kickoff.
He still has the will to compete for a place in the NFL. He participated in two offseason competitions that resembled combines before the Chargers added him to its roster.
He’s dramatically altered his form since the Chiefs released him in 2008. He no longer crowds the ball with his plant foot, which caused him to crunch his body. His new form allows him to stay tall and focus on a big follow through.
“I’m very confident that is what’s going to get me past this opportunity and on to the next thing,” he said.
ANOTHER BUFFALO: There are too many undrafted rookie free agents on the Chargers’ current roster to count on both hands.
The most anonymous, however, might be West Texas A&M product Cort Johnson.
Johnson led the Division II Lone Star Conference with 43.2 yards per punt as a senior in 2008.
Currently there are six former Buffs on NFL rosters, including Charly Martin with the Carolina Panthers. Martin went through training camp in San Diego last season.