ATHENS -- They are not like their predecessors. The two men to whom Marshall Morgan and Collin Barber will be compared were football lifers. One of them even had Georgia football it in his blood.
Marshall Morgan and Collin Barber are not like them. Prepare yourselves, Georgia football fans, as you read the following sentence: Two of the most important rookies, if not players, on this years team are fanatics of ... soccer.
We involve soccer a lot into our lives, Barber said. Talk about how much we miss it, how much we played. My whole family played soccer.
Fortunately for the Bulldogs, Morgan and Barber need their feet to succeed. And it is how well they use those feet, and how they handle the mental pressure that comes with their jobs, that make them so vital to Georgia this season.
Just as Blair Walsh and Drew Butler were tied together for four seasons, so now will Morgan and Butler be. They were recruited as the heir apparents at place-kicker (Morgan for Walsh) and punter (Barber for Butler). Its not exactly an easy task.
Walsh might have struggled his senior season, but he finished as Georgias all-time leader in points scored. Butler owns the best punting yard average in school history. Both are in NFL camps right now with a chance to win starting jobs.
Ive been watching Blair Walsh and Drew Butler over the years, and I know theyre great kickers, Morgan said. And I want to kind of do what they did. I want to follow in their footsteps.
Ive got big shoes to fill, Barber said. But like I say, I dont think theres any limitation to what one can achieve with determination and a great mindset.
Morgan is the one with the most eyes on him, particularly with the way Walsh left. For all his greatness, the final memory of him in a Georgia uniform is standing with his hands on his waist, looking away as Michigan State players celebrated having blocked his kick to ensure victory in the Outback Bowl.
Morgan is well aware that while head coach Mark Richt stood by Walsh, many Bulldogs fans did not. Morgan knows that however he starts and however he progresses this season, he is likely to be judged on his latest kick.
Pretty much, you have to be perfect as a kicker, he said. You go out there, and you have three, maybe four attempts. And if you miss one of those, youre gonna get some stuff for it.
He also isnt blind to what awaits him.
Its a lot of pressure. Its a big job, Morgan said. All the Georgia fans, they dont take it as a joke. SEC football, its big. So I felt it.
Barber was asked who had more pressure, himself or Morgan.
I have no idea, Barber said, very slowly and with a shy smile. Im just worrying about me and trying to be the best I can be and take the job.
Barber graduated from Cartersville in northeast Georgia. But he said he hardly watched any Georgia football during the past four years. Contrast that with Butler, whose father Kevin was a former Georgia kicker.
Im a soccer player, Barber said. Never thought Id play football one day in my life. Never crossed my mind to put on a helmet. A bunch of my friends my freshman year told me, Youve got nothing to lose, everything to gain. I went out after that, started kicking, started working hard, and I got to where I am today through hard work.
Barber hasnt spoken to Butler, who is in camp with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Morgan has spoken with Walsh, which seems natural since theyre fellow natives of south Florida. Their high schools are 20 miles apart.
But mostly it will be Barber to whom Morgan plans to confide this season, and vice versa. They will share their progress, struggles and other experiences this season.
Were getting to that point where we can depend on each other, and hold each other accountable for our actions, Barber said.
But it sounds like Morgan doesnt need to be reminded.
Its SEC football, he said. So I cant mess up.