Walsh Trying to Conquer Kickoffs

ATHENS – Blair Walsh has already kicked in some hostile environments. He booted a 42-yard field goal in front of more than 80,000 boisterous fans at South Carolina. He hit two more in the desert against Arizona State.

The most intimidating place he has kicked a football so far, however, was in the friendly confines of Sanford Stadium.

"This last game, the first kickoff was pretty insane, volume-wise," Walsh said. "But other than that it doesn't get to me anymore."

Walsh was thrown into the fire as Georgia's only scholarship kicker to start the season. He was asked to replace Brandon Coutu – one of the most reliable kickers in Bulldogs history. And he was a true freshman.

Two things Walsh has plenty of, however, are confidence and leg strength, and he has used both to make a solid start as Georgia's kicker on extra points and field goals. Through five games, he has missed just two kicks – both from beyond 50 yards – and is a perfect 20-for-20 on point-after tries.

"I feel like I'm getting there," Walsh said. "In my mind, I know I should have made those long 50s."

Walsh has connected on six-of-eight field goals so far this season, including three from beyond 40 yards. Against Georgia Southern, he hit a 52-yarder on his first career attempt.

"That was probably the greatest feeling of my life," Walsh said. "I had great blocking, got it up, got it in, and that was the end of that story."

That kick set a precedent with Georgia's coaching staff.

Head coach Mark Richt has had no qualms about sending Walsh into the game for long field-goal attempts, and while the freshman hasn't matched his opening kick since, he said the confidence from the coaches makes his job a lot easier.

"It's helped my confidence tremendously," Walsh said. "I could speak volumes as to how confident he is to let me go out there and kick. That's important to me. If he went for it on fourth down or punted it every time, I'd be like, oh, he doesn't have the confidence in me. But the fact that he lets me kick it, that's just great."

The season hasn't been all celebrations for Walsh.

Without a tee, he has been everything the Bulldogs hoped, but on kickoffs, Walsh hasn't faired nearly as well.

In the opening game, Walsh was given permission to kick deep, and the results were mixed. Some kicks went into the end zone, others came up well short.

On directional kicks – a staple of Georgia's special teams – Walsh has struggled as well, booting two kicks out of bounds already this season.

The poor kickoffs have led to strong starting field position for opponents, making the defense's job tougher.

Against Alabama, however, Walsh did show some signs of improvement. In fact, on that opening kickoff, he booted just his second touchback of the season.

"He's still not consistent," Richt said. "I talked to (special teams) coach (Jon Fabris) about it, and some kicks were just exactly where we wanted them, some kicks weren't. But I think he's getting closer to being as consistent as we want, putting the ball where we want it with enough hang time."

Walsh said he has tried to keep his kickoff struggles separate from his field-goal and extra-point duties, but the task isn't always a simple one.

"They sort of melt together," Walsh said. "But you've got to be confident and ready to go at all times."

The confidence isn't an issue for Walsh. When he misses a kick, he said, he forgets about it immediately. The same is true if he makes them. The only thing he's concerned with is the next kick, and after five games getting used to his surroundings, Walsh doesn't consider missing a possibility.

"I have a personal goal not to miss anything I should make," he said, "and I feel like I'm achieving that."

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