ATHENS -- What was the most notable thing Marshall Morgan did this summer? Once again he was close to the water, although in a bit more of a controlled environment.
Georgia’s All-SEC kicker served as a lifeguard at a local country club, making money in, as he put it, “an NCAA approved kind of way.” He wasn’t recognized or hassled much until one day when the son of a Georgia coach told his friends, who told their parents.
Still, Morgan didn’t feel that hassled.
“If it was Todd (Gurley), maybe,” he said.
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Maybe he doesn’t have the star power of Gurley, but Morgan he was just as good for Georgia last year. Now the question is whether Morgan equal his outstanding sophomore year, which came after a first chaotic first year on the team.
“He’s striking the ball extremely well,” head coach Mark Richt said of Morgan after Saturday’s scrimmage. “I like the way he’s hitting the ball right now. He’s really getting it up (high).”
This preseason is so different for Morgan. Last year he was coming off a subpar freshman season, featuring missed extra points and field goals off the cross bar -- plus he had a two-game suspension coming for boating under the influence.
This year he’s coming off one of the best seasons in Georgia history, making 22-of-24 field goal attempts, including 55- and 56-yarders. He also made every extra point, a feat worth pointing out considering his freshman season.
So in the offseason the mental challenge was to try to hit reset.
“I haven’t made a kick yet,” Morgan said. “So I’ve gotta work as hard as I can to have a successful season.”
Morgan often compares kicking field goals to golf -- as do other kickers, including predecessor Blair Walsh -- and the worry is that for all of last year’s success one or two misses this year could lead to a prolonged slump.
Morgan says he can avoid that during the season, because he always tries to forget the previous kick. He’s preparing during the preseason by being pressured at practice.
“You’ve got every single coach watching you,” Morgan said.
One coach, in particular, is somebody Morgan wants to impress: Jeremy Pruitt, who was at Florida State last year when the Seminoles had Robert Aguayo, who won the Lou Groza Award as the nation’s top kicker.
Morgan and Pruitt have never talked, but the kicker is well aware of the new defensive coordinator.
“In spring when he was out there watching, and he was setting up his defense against our field goal unit, I was like, ‘Yeah this guy has seen some good kickers. So I’ve gotta do something to impress him,’ ” Morgan said.
When he wasn’t lifeguarding, Morgan said he kicked more this summer. Some of that was a byproduct of taking May-mester and summer classes, so he was around a lot. Adam Erickson, the senior punter, lives within walking distance of the football building, so Morgan would call him up and Erickson would hold as Morgan tried field goal kicks.
“I’d go out there about three times a week, four times a week, just try to knock out a bunch,” Morgan said.
The aim was for accuracy, not distance. Morgan says he’s not worried about distance, thanks to the UGA strength program.
But he is worried about kickoffs. Last year that was the only blight on his resume. His yards-per-kickoff was down three percentage points from his freshman year, and only 17 of his 72 attempts (23.6 percent) were touchbacks.
For comparison’s sake, Aguayo had touchbacks on 37.5 percent of his kickoffs, although his average kickoff length was about the same as Morgan’s (60.8 to 60.3).
Morgan said he changed his footwork in an effort to get longer kickoffs. Prior to kickoffs, he used to take 10 steps back and then three to the left, before running straight to the tee. Now he’s doing nine steps back, then six to the left.
Kickoffs and field goals have a different trajectory, which is why it’s not automatic that someone who can make 55-yard field goals should be able to boot it through on kickoffs. Kickoffs have a tee an inch off the ground.
On field goals, he takes three steps back and two to the left. So Morgan figured why not make it the same fraction on kickoffs.
“I can consistently get them in the back now, unless there’s a crazy wind in my face or something,” Morgan said.