It’s easy to see the lift Cameron Nizialek has brought to Georgia’s special teams.
After finishing the 2016 season with a collective average of 37.5 yards per punt, Georgia has seen a sizable increase with Nizialek’s addition. Nizialek, who arrived at Georgia as a graduate transfer from Columbia, has averaged 43.2 yards per attempt with six going 50 yards or longer.
Two of those punts have gone for 59 yards, which each reaching that distance through the air. Nizialek has landed 13 of his 25 punts inside the 20-yard line and has provided enough air under the ball to allow the coverage team to force 14 fair catches.
For the season, Nizialek has only had five punts returned for a total of 9 yards.
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Going from the Ivy League to the SEC has gone without a hitch through the first half of the season.
“I think I’ve got a lot of confidence,” Nizialek said. “I had confidence last year but playing at this level has been a great experience for me. I think I’ve been playing well and I want to keep doing that. I’ve been more consistent. Those two things go together, confidence and consistency.”
While Nizialek has done a fine job as Georgia’s top punter, head coach Kirby Smart said he would like to see him match quality hang time and distance with more regularity.
On his lone punt against Vanderbilt in a 45-14 win, Nizialek boomed the football 59 yards to the Vanderbilt 3-yard line. But the ball didn’t have the preferred hang time, which allowed for Kalija Lipscomb to return it for 13 yards.
That may seem like nitpicking, considering the only other returns Nizialek’s punts have seen totaled -4 yards. But like he does with most of his position groups, Smart stressed the importance of consistency.
“Cam is doing a good job,” Smart said. “I would love for him to be a little more consistent with yardage and hang. We always talk to him about that. That’s a hard job to measure because every punter wants to bang it as far as he can and we want him to hit it as far as he can. He just has to balance that with the hang time and the distance. He hit that one a little firm.”
Nizialek agreed with his coach’s assessment and said he hopes to do a better job of bringing his hang time and distance closer together.
“That was the first positive return they’ve had all year,” Nizialek said. “I’ll try to not let that happen again.”
A big benefit of Nizialek’s leg, along with the help of his coverage team, has been where opponents are starting drives. Georgia ranks 17th nationally in opponents’ starting field position, with Nizialek providing a big role in why.
For the season, teams are averaging a starting field position at their own 23-yard line following a Nizialek punt.
“He’s an awesome guy, man. He hits bombs,” said inside linebacker Roquan Smith, who is also on the punt coverage team. “Last game, he kicked a (59)-yarder, so it’s fun covering those type of kicks for a guy who actually enjoys what he’s doing.”
With the Ivy League not allowing fifth-year college athletes to participate in sports, Nizialek saw an opportunity at Georgia to transfer in and contribute as a punter. It has worked well for both parties, considering how improved Georgia has been in this department.
“I’m living the dream right now. I love Athens, I love this town,” Nizialek said. “Every week is a new opportunity to show what I’ve got. I think I’ve done a good job and I’m having a great time.”