Now or never?

Junior Mauro Bondi realizes the situation. Win the kicking job this year or it might not ever happen.

LINCOLN, Neb. - Junior kicker Mauro Bondi knows a thing or two about coming in as a true freshman with expectations.

In 2011, Bondi was brought in on scholarship and expected to be the next great Husker kicker – following Alex Henery’s first-team All-American season. Instead, Bondi was beat out by walk-on junior Brett Maher.

The 2012 season came around and Bondi was asked to do one of the toughest things for a college athlete to go through. After contributing to the team in 2011 on kickoffs only, it was suggested to Bondi he redshirt in 2012 to have three years to play.

After sitting, the 2013 season couldn’t have come fast enough and Bondi was hoping to finally be the man. Instead, the redshirt sophomore was beat out by a fifth-year senior transfer.

“Being on the sideline it was humbling again,” said Bondi when asked about last season on Monday.

Which brings us to 2014. After a somewhat rough spring, where head coach Bo Pelini said he needed better effort from the kickers, Bondi has kicked to the quality of a Big Ten starter this fall.

“Coming out of the spring game I was a little disappointed, but now being able to start again, it’s a lot easier to focus,” said Bondi. “Every fall I think there is a clean slate, we are zero-for-zero, so we can come out and try to make it clean as possible.”

Bondi reports he’s kicking the football the best he has in four years. But you remember those expectations as a freshman? They have passed on to another player. True freshman Drew Brown – who many expected would kick this year after coming in on a scholarship.

“This fall I have had the mindset that I want to play - this is the year and if it doesn’t happen this year, it probably won’t happen,” said Bondi. “I do think it’s an advantage that I have been out here so long. Nerves aren’t really an issue. Competing with Drew, he’s really mentally tough.”

The elder statesman of the position, Bondi says the freshman is light-years ahead of where he was when he hit Lincoln four seasons ago.

“A lot better than I did. He’s really mentally tough,” said Bondi. “He doesn’t let anything get to his head. He kicks well and I feel like I have been around him for three years now. He doesn’t act like a freshman at all. He’s really stepped up his game. He’s handled it a lot better than I did.

“Coming in here, the whole college thing, school, the program, after Alex Henery, things like that really messes with the mind. He’s just come out here with the focus that he’s ready to play to, just like I am. I was lost and didn’t know what I was doing as much as he does. He has come in prepared.”

Next week is game week. While the Huskers rotated kickers last year during the non-conference portion of the schedule, they likely won’t have the same luxury this season. If Drew Brown isn’t going to kick, he needs to redshirt.

On Saturday the two competed in practice with the entire team around them - not exactly a game-winner, but difficult none the less. Bondi hit four-of-five, including a 57-yarder. Brown was three-for-five, but knocked in multiple kicks from 50+.

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