A couple of news reports out of Athens this week got me to thinking about a possible solution to one of Mark Richt’s lingering problems: kickoffs.
Freshman placekicker Blair Walsh’s performance as kickoff man was decidedly less than satisfactory last season. Because he had trouble getting the ball into the end zone, the coaches elected to go with high, short kicks that often gave the other team great field position, especially on the eight times Walsh kicked it out of bounds (including twice in the Tech game). It didn’t help that the Dawgs’ kick coverage in general was pretty awful, part of the generally dismal state of special teams play last year. At season’s end, a frustrated Richt declared he might go as far as Poland to find someone who could boom kickoffs out of the end zone.
But here we are with spring practice having begun and no new kicker on the roster while Walsh is maintaining he wants to try and continue to do the kickoffs as well as field goals and PATs. Richt is noncommittal and notes that besides the two walk-on backup kickers he currently has, others could join the team in August.
Which brings me back to the other news item, as UGA this week cut the ribbon on a new club sports complex on South Milledge out by the old Red Barn. The $2.5 million complex features lighted fields for use by club teams like lacrosse, men’s soccer, Ultimate Frisbee and rugby, who previously had to share the intramural fields with the school’s rec teams. It’s a long-overdue gesture on the part of the university for the 1.600 students who represent UGA against other schools in club sports, mostly paying their own way in terms of uniforms, transportation, etc. But even this new complex will be of only limited help, as my grad student son, who played Ultimate Frisbee five years and now is one of the assistant coaches, noted that his team will have very restricted practice time and the fields are a bit small.
Still, it’s a giant leap from back in November 1966 when my family was among the crowd of a few hundred people standing around the cramped quarters of the old Myers Quadrangle as the then brand-new UGA men’s soccer team took on Georgia Tech in the first modern-day college soccer game in Athens. My brothers and I followed the soccer club faithfully over the next few years as they eventually moved over to the intramural fields, and a player who particularly caught our eye in 1967 was a blond freshman named Peter Rajecki. He quickly became the star of the team.
A year later, as most SEC football teams were starting to replace their old-fashioned straight-ahead placekickers with soccer-style kickers who had a much longer range for field goals, Vince Dooley looked to the UGA men’s soccer club for help. Rajecki, Dooley’s first soccer-style kicker, wound up handling long field goals for the football team for three seasons. Since that time, the Dawgs have used only soccer-style kickers.
So, in looking for an answer to his kickoff problems, maybe Richt doesn’t have to go as far as Poland. Perhaps one of those members of the men’s soccer team playing out on South Milledge might have the powerful leg that the Dawgs need to keep their opponents starting play back on the 20-yard line.
Speaking of kickers, probably Georgia’s greatest, Kevin Butler, is hosting the Subway Kick-for-Cash contest prior to the nationally televised G-Day spring game on April 11, with one fan getting the chance to win $25,000. You can register online for a chance to be selected as the contestant; entrants must be at least 18 years old. Oh, and there’s a chance of doubling your winnings if both the contestant and Butler make the kick!
Go to georgiadogs.com for more information.
Elsewhere this weekend, the Diamond Dogs are at Foley Field for their first SEC homestand of the season against Mississippi State; the defending national champion Gym Dogs are in Nashville looking to win their eighth SEC championship; and, confounding the expectations of many (including in the AJC newsroom) who didn’t think they’d make it to the NCAA tournament, Andy Landers’ Lady Dogs will host Arizona State at noon Saturday at Gwinnett Arena.