Like most placekickers, Georgia Southern’s Jesse Hartley relishes the times when games come down to a kick.
“I love those situations,” said the senior, who’s using this spring to re-solidify his role as the Eagles’ top kicker.
Hartley was a model for consistency last year when the walk-on nailed a school record 47 consecutive extra-point attempts, but a solid season ended on a sour note when his game-winning 33-yard try against Furman was ruled wide right.
“It was the closest kick of my life,” Hartley said following the team’s Tuesday morning workout. “It was a judgment call, but that’s why you kick them down the middle — so you don’t leave it to the people in the striped shirts. It was pretty close, but it’s going to be through the middle next year. I guarantee you that.”
Hartley and kicking/defensive line coach Jeff Koonz said the Eagles have moved beyond the missed opportunity, which would have given GSU the conference title and an automatic playoff berth.
“We all wanted the ball to go through the uprights,” Koonz said. “His fundamentals are sound, and nobody felt any worse than Jesse did. A missed kick every once in a while doesn’t mean they’re a bad kicker (and) shouldn’t bother their confidence. It’s like a DB that gets beat over the top — you’ve got to have a short memory. Jesse has a short memory. Our goal next year is to make every kick.”
Hartley has accepted the rollercoaster lifestyle that comes with being a kicker, and he knows the importance of moving beyond imperfections. He hit 17 of 24 tries last year (70.8 percent), including a career-long 54-yard game winner as time expired against South Dakota State.
“You make some and you miss some,” he said. “Even (Indianapolis Colt) Adam Vinatieri doesn’t make all his kicks. He’s missed a game-winner before. You’ve just got to pick your head up and make the next one. I just try to go out here and have as much fun as I can. It’s college football, and I’ve got one more year left to make it count. I’m going to try to do the best I can.
“I just want to be (the) best I can be and help this team out as much as I can, earn some respect from everybody — from the coaches to the players — and try to do the best I can to earn another spot on this team and prove my worthiness.”
Like all positions, Eagle coach Chris Hatcher said the starting kicking job is wide open. Hartley is currently battling junior walk-on Sean Mayo, senior and South Effingham grad Patrick Bolen, redshirt freshman walk-on Charlie Edwards and redshirt freshman Adrian Mora, who’s coming off surgery.
“Mayo is right in the fold,” Koonz said. “He’s giving Jesse a real good run for his money. Jesse’s a good kicker, but the other guys are doing well also. I think we’ve got a good stable of kickers, and they’re working their tail off to make every kick. Every day a different person is getting a chance to show what they can do. Competition is making them all better.”
Practice, QB update
An unseasonably cold morning greeted the Eagles for their first practice Tuesday after a 10-day layoff for spring break. Hatcher thought the time away was beneficial both physically and mentally to players and coaches.
“We were a little rusty early on, but our intensity was good, we flew around good,” Hatcher said. “As far as our attitude and us flying around on defense — it was a lot better today then it was (at our last practice).”
As for the closely contested three-man quarterback race between Kyle Collins, Lee Chapple and Billy Lowe, Hatcher said no one has stood out yet.
“We feel good about all three of them, but one of them has got to make a move,” he said. “Each day one of them does a little better than the other, and we’ve just got to find the most consistent."