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Athletic kicker could be UGA's most important recruit

Walsh expected to replace Coutu.

By CARTER STRICKLAND

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Published on: 01/11/08

Athens When it came time for the decision, Blair Walsh never looked to the sideline and never hesitated.

Sure everybody on the field was three times bigger and the spotlight was 1,000 times brighter. This wasn't Cardinal Gibbons on a Friday night. It was NBC on a Saturday afternoon. It was a stage where America's top senior football players were performing. And now it was Walsh's turn to do just that.

So he took off. All 5-foot-10, 175 pounds of him screaming down the field. A punter faking out the top players in the country.

"I'm pretty fast, and I knew they were coming a lot," Walsh said. "They kept coming in from the right, and they were leaking a little bit. I thought, 'I have just got to go.' "

He ran right past the first-down marker. His team subsequently scored to put the game out of reach.

"[The coaches] loved it," Walsh said. "Everybody was pretty happy."

That "everybody" most likely included a few viewers in Georgia. Walsh is the future of the Georgia kicking game. He won't punt next year. But the incoming freshman from Cardinal Gibbons in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., is the odds-on favorite to replace kicker Brandon Coutu. In fact, he might be the only replacement for Coutu.

Both of Georgia's scholarship kickers, Andy Bailey and Coutu, have exhausted their eligibility. That's why in a recruiting class filled with broad shoulders and big hopes, Walsh cannot be overlooked.

"The Georgia coaches are sticking to their style of locking down the best players from the state of Georgia and then cherry-picking the best players from the rest of the region," said Miller Safrit, a recruiting analyst with Scout.com.

Count Walsh among those players cherry-picked.

"We had comprised a list of what schools we would look at, and they kept coming up on the top," Walsh said. "Once they offered I knew, and then when I took a visit ... you visit there and know that nobody, Miami or Florida, could offer what they had."

What Georgia has is a hole at kicker, a team that should start the season in the top three and a schedule that looks as if it will provide plenty of close games. In fact, Georgia coach Mark Richt always stresses that a team has to win the close games to win a national title. Florida in 2005 is his example, and the Gators had a senior kicker, Chris Hetland, that season.

Georgia will have a freshman next season.

"I like the challenge," Walsh said. "I realize Georgia is going to have the number one or two team in the country, and for me to be kicking, I would love nothing more. That is the plan for me. I definitely can't wait to get there to prove myself."

Walsh has done just that on the high school level. A few weeks into the season, he was out to prove his leg strength. With time running out against Coconut Creek and his team trailing 15-14, rather than go for a Hail Mary, Walsh was sent out to attempt a 67-yarder.

"When I hit it, for a moment or two I thought I had it, but then I saw it start to turn a little but," Walsh said.

The kick had the distance, but it went a few yards to the right. In the previous two weeks Walsh made two kicks from 59 yards to tie the Broward County record. That ability and flexibility is owed to a yoga routine developed while working with his kicking coach, Nick Gancitano.

"It is almost like something where you relax, and it lets use every single muscle in your body," Walsh said. "It's not a thing where you turn a switch right there. Your mind just really knows what to do, and your body knows how to react."

Whether faking a punt for a first down on national television or getting the distance on a 67-yard field goal.

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