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Former Chargers kicker Nick Novak awaits his next opportunity in the NFL as a place kicker after being cut from the 53-player roster this season. Photo by Bill Reilly
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Taking what the NFL has thrown at him, Novak now enters waiting game

SAN DIEGO — Nick Novak has a lot of memories. 

From growing up in San Diego until he was 13 to summer vacations with his family in Del Mar to spending one of his most successful seasons as a place kicker with the Chargers last season.

Whatever memories he takes with him from his time with San Diego, Novak won’t be making any more with the Chargers.

When the team had to reduce their roster to 53 players at the end of August, Novak was told he wouldn’t be on it, ultimately losing the job to Nate Kaeding, the team’s regular kicker, whom Novak filled in for last season following an injury that kept Kaeding out for the 2011 season.

Novak finished the season with a .794 percentage, making 27 of 34 field goals in his 15 games with the Chargers, including setting a team record for 12 field goals made from 40 yards and four made from 50 yards or longer.

Despite the success of last season, he knew that every day this preseason would be a competition.

“If you’re on an NFL roster, whether it’s preseason or camp or in season…everyday you’re competing, not only with the guy you’re in camp with but all 32 ‘whoevers’ active in the league,” Novak said. “Once you put yourself on film, everyone sees it. You try to put your best foot forward literally…that’s the key.”

Now 31, Novak didn’t discover football until he was in his sophomore year in high school. Having moved to Virginia with his family when his parents took teaching jobs at the University of Virginia (his parents now teach in Texas), he played soccer and was a long distance runner on his track team at Albemarle High in Charlottesville.

“Football wasn’t even on the radar,” he said. “But in my sophomore year I thought about maybe trying out being a kicker.”

He said he was prompted by his then-Earth Science teacher Richard Vrhovac, who was also, at the time, the head football coach.

Since then Novak’s career as a place kicker has blossomed and withered — he began his NFL career in 2005 with the Chicago Bears before being waived. He bounced from six other teams before signing with the Chargers in 2010 only to be released; he signed with the New York Jets that same year.

With the injury to Kaeding in 2011, Novak again signed with the Chargers.

Still, the ups-and-downs have given Novak a wealth of experience to draw on when it comes to the pressures of lining up kicks to give the team a lead or score a game-winning field goal in the dwindling seconds of a contest.

And with each kick he forms new memories. He’s got the ability to move on mentally when missing a kick, he said, adding that, “The only time that I reflect on kicks is if it’s a game winning kick or a scenario that I’ve been in. I go back to that kick that I’ve experienced in the past just for that mental picture,” he said.

“The longer you play, the more experienced you get, and at this point, I feel like I’ve experienced everything that football can throw at me as far as situations.”

Situations that include the perception of kickers being aloof or that it’s a lonely position.

It’s not a lonely position, Novak said. “We’re one of 11,” he said. “I think kickers get a bad rap as far as being a lonely kicker or an outcast or (being) somewhere in the background. I think I’ve always tried to train the same as the rest of the guys.”

Novak said kickers share similarities to that of defensive backs. “I think when a defensive back gets beat, you have to move on to the next rep; you have to be ready for the next play. And if a kicker misses a kick, you have to move on and make the next one. You have to have short memories,” he said.

A lot of times a kicker’s focus can be misconstrued for aloofness. “It’s important for us (kickers) to stay into the game,” Novak said. Routines are a very important aspect to maintaining that focus.

Some guys stand on the sidelines when the defense has the ball, other times they’re in the practice net when the offense nears field goal range, Novak explained.

“I’m the type that likes to walk in just straight focused the whole time, (and) not try to carry on any conversations on the sidelines, just stay in the game and stay focused and kind of do a lot of mental reps on the sidelines to be ready for any opportunities that I have.”

With the NFL season kicking off Sept. 5, and all 32 teams still adjusting their final rosters, Novak takes to the sidelines and waits for his next opportunity.