Furyk is a PGA golfer who’s renowned for finding remarkable consistency and performance from a swing that has been ridiculed for its poor form. A little like Georgia punter Gordon Ely-Kelso.
“He’s not a traditional straight leg guy who has extension throughout the kick,” said assistant coach David Johnson, who tutors the punters and place-kickers. “If you freeze the tape right on impact, he looks like a traditional punter, but as soon as the ball comes off his foot, his leg coils back up and it becomes like a soccer kick.”
Fitting, considering Ely-Kelso is a converted soccer player. And effective, considering he will leave school as the all-time leader in punts and total yardage. Georgia (7-4) will honor Ely-Kelso and the rest of its seniors Saturday before the 3:30 p.m. game against No. 16 Georgia Tech (9-2).
When coaches watch Ely-Kelso’s form, “You say how in the world does he hit it straight?” Johnson said.
But he does. His 42.9-yard average last year was the seventh-best single season figure in school history. This year, he’s averaging 41.1 yards, the third-best total in the SEC, and it could be better if he weren’t so dedicated to hang time.
“If he wanted to boom it longer than he’s booming it, he could boom it longer and flatter and tougher to cover, and we’d be more vulnerable to big returns,” Coach Mark Richt said. “Gordon has been unselfish enough to (kick the ball high).”
More than 30 percent of Ely-Kelso’s 210 career punts have been downed inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. Like Furyk’s golf swing, his form is perfect when his foot strikes the ball.
“He’s adapted to it,” Johnson said. “It’s just like a golf swing, some guys have a really funky golf swing, but they hit the ball in the sweet part of the club and they’re consistent with it and it seems to work for them. That’s the way it is with him. He just has that crazy golf swing.”
While his mechanics will never make a teaching video, Ely-Kelso’s mental makeup is ideal.
“He’s very easy going, doesn’t get upset, no real highs, no real lows, kind of a fun-loving kid, very intelligent,” Johnson said. “He’s a thinker.”
That mind-set has allowed Ely-Kelso to take on emergency duties as Georgia’s place-kicker. He hit a 34-yard kicker two weeks ago against Auburn in his first place-kicking duty since high school, and he’ll handle both duties again this week.
Ely-Kelso, whose father Lane Ely was a walk-on fullback at Michigan State, came to Georgia as a walk-on and was so unimpressive during his redshirt freshman season that the Bulldogs took the unusual step of signing a place-kicker/punter (Andy Bailey) the following year.
“The next spring, (Ely-Kelso) all of a sudden began to hit the ball well,” Richt said. “He had changed his approach to the game, how quickly he’d get the punt off, and, by the end of spring, we were thinking, ‘It’s going to be tough for someone to beat him out.’”
There’s nothing to explain the turnaround other than the familiarity of having spent a year in the program, said Ely-Kelso, who is now on scholarship.
“I don’t think I realized what a big difference it would be in college so I always thought I’d be successful,” he said. “I’ve been real fortunate that it worked out the way it did. I guess a lot of it was ignorance, but I never really doubted myself.”
He does have doubts, though, about an NFL future despite his success in college.
“I don’t really put too much stock in it because I’ve known so many great kickers and punters who haven’t really gotten a shot,” he said. “Especially with such a unique position where somebody can play (in the NFL) for 15 years, and there are only so many spots. It’s real random.”
If professional football is not in his future, he’s not sure what is, he said. Ely-Kelso is a geography major because when it came time to choose a major he happened to have more credits toward a geography degree than any other, he said.
“Actually, it turned out I do kind of enjoy it,” he said. “I’m not really sure what I’m going to do with it, but it is kind of interesting. Basically if the NFL doesn’t work out, I’ll get a job wherever they take me pretty much.”
It’s not the traditional career plan, but Ely-Kelso’s proven he doesn’t have to do things just like everybody else to make them work.
Gordon Ely-Kelso year-by-year
2003 66 39.0
2004 53 35.3
2005 54 42.9
2006 37 41.1