Brett Maher
Dallas Cowboys kicker and Kearney High School alumnus Brett Maher lifts his hand to high-five his niece Maci Arens, 5, Wednesday at the Kearney High School football field. Maher returned to his alma mater to raise funds for victims of the recent flood in south-central Nebraska. To raise funds, Maher signed autographs and posed for pictures Wednesday while promoting a food drive. Maci is the daughter of Kelli and Jesse Arens of Kearney.

KEARNEY — Brett Maher recalls his senior year at Kearney High with passion.

“I remember it vividly. From the first game here to the playoff games, even basketball and track. That was a fantastic time in my life and in my wife’s life. … That’s something I look back on fondly,” he said.

Maher, now the place kicker for the Dallas Cowboys, played a key role in Kearney High football as a kicker, punter and wide receiver. He also played basketball for the Bearcats and won the pole vault and long jump at the state track meet, earning the 2008 Kearney Hub Prep Athlete of the Year Award.

He also met Jenna McBride, now his wife and mother of their two daughters, age 5 and 2.

Those memories came back in a flood of emotions when they saw video and heard stories about the flood waters that overwhelmed portions of Kearney last week. Wednesday, Maher came back to Kearney to do what he could for flood relief — signing autographs and promoting a food drive to help the people who remain a part of his life.

“My wife and I are just trying to help the community we’re from. There’s a lot of good people here that we care about that have supported us on our journey, and we’re just doing what we can to ... give some supplies, some money and some food to people who need it,” he said during a small gathering at the Kearney High football field. “I hope people understand how much we care about the community and what we’re trying to do here today and as long as we can to give back to the place that’s been so good for us.

“It isn’t much but I hope it will reach the right people and provide a little bit of relief and a little break from what is going on.”

Maher’s journey to the Cowboys has been a long one — longer than the team-record 62-yard field goal he kicked against the Philadelphia Eagles — but he never got discouraged.

After five years at Nebraska, where he was a holder first, then the kicker/punter, Maher had tryouts with New York Jets, Cleveland Browns and Cowboys. He ended up playing three years in the Canadian Football League with the Ottawa Redblacks and Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

His call to the NFL came last summer. Signed as a backup to ease the load on veteran Dan Bailey, he suddenly found himself the starter when the Cowboys released Bailey.

“It’s been quite a journey. We got to see a lot of things, meet a lot of cool people and it really has been a lot of fun,” he said. “Even when I was up in Canada, I still got to play. ... I love playing football. I love competing. I love everything about that.

“The thing I missed the most about going up there was, my family for the most part, wasn’t able to come with me. My wife was either here or in Lincoln teaching and that was hard. It will be nice to have them all with me here this next year.”

Maher said he always believed in himself and thought he would get his chance with the NFL.

“The there was the support from my inner circle … that kept believing in me as well,” he said.

When he got his chance with the Cowboys, he delivered. He made 32 of 33 extra points and 28 of 36 field goals including the 62-yarder that is the third-longest in NFL history.

“That was fun. That’s something you don’t know if it’s going to come up again or not the rest of your career. To have that opportunity and just go blast one away and even to have it be in a division game where it meant something, too, that was fun. That’s one of the moments you look back on in the offseason and it’s pretty cool to have that notch on your belt,” he said.

@HubSports_Buck