ATHENS — Technically, Blair Walsh doesn’t have a kicking coach. Not at Georgia anyway.
The Bulldogs don’t include a kicking coach or even a special teams coordinator among their NCAA limit of nine assistant coaches.
But that doesn’t mean Walsh doesn’t get advice. For that, Georgia’s senior place-kicker has endless resources.
Through high school, Walsh trained under Nick Gancitano of the Nick Gancitano Kicking Academy in South Florida and Walsh still talks to Gancitano regularly about kicking. But Walsh hears from plenty of other experts as well.
“Nick Gancitano is a guy I refer to as my coach, but I’ve had a lot of guys reach out to me and talk to me about kicking throughout my entire career,” Walsh said this week. “I talk to them about the ups and downs of the job and they give me words of encouragement or advice or tell me if they see anything I need to change. Nick, Rex Robinson, Kevin Butler, Billy Bennett, all those guys have been a help to me.”
Walsh has gotten more than his share of advice this season as he has endured the worst slump of his collegiate career. The 2009 Lou Groza Award finalist has missed 10 of 23 field goal attempts this season. This after missed just five kicks in his sophomore and junior seasons combined.
“Sometimes it can be overwhelming to hear everybody’s opinion,” Walsh said. “But those guys know what they’re talking about. They’ve been doing it a long time and they’ve been successful at this level and obviously above. I’m open for any advice from them because they know what they’re talking about for sure.”
For decades, Georgia had a kicking coach in the late Bill Hartman Jr., a former All-American who handled the duty as a volunteer assistant. But the NCAA eliminated volunteer coaches in the late 1990s and the Bulldogs, like most teams, have been winging it ever since.
Georgia coach Mark Richt said he and the Bulldogs’ assistants generally steer away from giving the kickers technical or mental advice. He equated it to golfers, who generally have their own personal swing coaches.
“[Kickers] still kind of rely heavily on the guys that have taught them all along,” Richt said. “If you have too many people trying to teach a guy to swing a club or to swing his leg as a kicker you could have problems. The unfortunate thing is we can’t just bring Blair’s coach in there and let him coach him, even for a couple of hours. That is a problem. It’d be nice to have somebody on staff who is an expert at that.”
Walsh’s problems finally reached a point where last week Richt opened up the kicking competition between him and Brandon Bogotay and had them alternate kicks in last Saturday’s game against New Mexico State. Bogotay, a senior from San Diego, is also a scholarship kicker.
The Bulldogs brought him to Athens in 2008 when Walsh was struggling with kickoffs. But Bogotay enters this week’s Auburn game having attempted only one field goal in his career — a miss from 35 yards in last season — and neither played had a try against the Aggies. Bogotay was 4-for-4 on extra points.
Walsh said he hasn’t made any wholesale changes in his kick during the slump. Meanwhile, Richt said the competition between Walsh and Bogotay continued in practice this week. He could not, however say how the rotation, if there was one, would work against Auburn on Saturady.
“If I knew 100 percent I really wouldn’t want to tell you now anyway,” he said.
From a practical standpoint, it seems unlikely the Bulldogs would throw a unseasoned kicker such as Bogotay into a field goal duty in as crucial an SEC game as is Auburn on Saturday. Georgia needs to win it to remain in first place in the SEC East with one conference game remaining.
And when you consider that the average score of the Georgia-Auburn series over 114 games is 15.86-15.53, it could well come down to a kick from Walsh.
Walsh said he’ll be ready if that happens.
“Like I’ve said, my abilities are still there and I believe in myself and I believe in my ability to perform on the field consistently,” he said. “I just think I need to get into a rhythm and gets some kicks under my belt and move from there.”