STATESBORO — There’s plenty for kickers to do during spring football practice. And there’s plenty of competition, too, at Georgia Southern’s practice fields.
There are only a couple of jobs available for punters and kickers, and South Effingham High grad Patrick Bolen has one of them. The lefty is the Eagles’ No. 1 kickoff man, and there are seven kickers on the roster.
“We’ve been helping each other,” said Bolen, a rising senior and the kicker who has been in the program the longest. “We’ve had some new guys come in and (we’re) just trying to get to know them.”
While Eagles coach Chris Hatcher has lamented his team’s lack of depth — Georgia Southern signed nearly 30 players for next year, nearly twice the normal number of recruits — there is no such problem with kickers.
Bolen and Jesse Hartley, a fellow senior who was a second-team all-Southern Conference pick last season, are joined by junior Sean Mayo as returning kickers. Adrian Mora, a redshirt freshman from Dalton, is part of the incoming crop that includes Nick Sasser of Brunswick and Chris Rogers of Dublin.
Mayo is expected to battle it out with Charlie Edwards, a transfer from Alabama-Birmingham, for the punting duties.
“It’s going to be interesting to see in the fall who is going to win the kicking jobs,” Bolen said. “The competition’s been good.”
Hartley attempted every field goal and extra point for the Eagles in 2007. He was 17 of 24 on field goal tries and converted on all 47 point after touchdown attempts, tying a school record for most field goals in a season and for consecutive PATs made.
In his career at GSU, Bolen is 13 of 14 on PATs and 6 of 11 on field goal tries. It’s not likely he’ll get a chance to put points on the board this year, but that may have more to do with the abilities of the other kickers around him.
Last season, he averaged 63.8 yards per kickoff and had two touchbacks in his 11 attempts. He also put a kickoff through the uprights in the season finale at Colorado State.
Bolen has a grip on the kickoffs, and he has no intention of letting go.
“I love doing kickoffs. I like doing place kicking,” he said. “But those guys ahead of me, they’re really good. I’m not saying I’m bad by any means.”
Bolen registered two tackles last season, and as the kicker on kickoffs, he’s the last line of defense. Don’t count him among those kickers who seek contact.
“I haven’t had a tackling drill since high school,” he said. “I’d probably be a little rusty. It showed a little bit last year in the Wofford game. I was diving at that guy and trying to grab his shoelaces.”
While the rest of the team goes through drills on the Beautiful Eagle Creek practice facility, the kickers are literally in a world of their own, until it’s time for special teams group work. In other words, there’s not a lot of new stuff to put in for the kickers.
“It’s a little different,” Bolen said. “We still have to get our work in. I think it’s been a really good spring.”
For Bolen and the rest of the seniors, their Georgia Southern careers have been tumultuous. Their freshmen campaigns ended with Texas State’s come-from-behind win in the first round of the playoffs, followed by coach Mike Sewak’s dismissal.
As sophomores, they posted the program’s worst record since football was reinstated with the 3-8 mark in coach Brian VanGorder’s one-year tenure.
As juniors, they had their third coaching staff in 25 months. But after 15 months of Hatcher and his staff — and last year’s 7-4 mark that provided weekly thrills but ended without a playoff berth — the Eagles have taken to their new leader.
“We went 7-4 and we could have easily been 11-0,” Bolen said. “We were that close.
Coach Hatcher’s got us believing in ourselves that we can get the job done. It’s been so much more relaxing having a coach come in here and knowing he’s going to put the best players on the field.”
It didn’t take long for the players to respond to Hatcher’s positive demeanor and to put the disastrous 3-8 2006 season — though five losses came by a total of 14 points — behind them.
“Coach Hatcher was a little more laid back,” Bolen said. “He’s unbelievable.”
A health and physical education major, Bolen is on track to graduate in December, right in the middle of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. He wants to have two celebrations at Paulson Stadium.
“I’ll graduate and hopefully I’ll actually graduate and still be playing for a national championship,” he said. “That’s our goal this year — to go undefeated and play for a national championship.”
Eagle Club meeting:
The Effingham County Eagle Club will meet on April 24 with coaches Chris Hatcher and Jeff Price. The event will be held at Effingham County High School at 6:30 p.m. Tickets for the event are $10 per person. Children 10 and under are free. For more information, call Charles Hartzog at 754-6599, Harry Shearouse at 754-0754 or Wendel Wilson at 754-3012.