There’s expected to be 4,970 freshmen entering the University of Georgia next week for the fall semester.
Few will be as high-profile — for better or worse — as kicker Marshall Morgan and punter Collin Barber.
Their mistakes and achievements will be on display for more than 92,000 to see at Sanford Stadium, assuming they lock up the jobs they were given scholarships to win.
“Since I got here, I felt the responsibility,” Morgan said Thursday. “I know it’s a lot of pressure. It’s a big job. All the Georgia fans, they don’t take it as a joke. It’s serious. SEC football — it’s big. So I felt it.”
Morgan is ahead of walk-on Jamie Lindley to be Georgia’s kicker, head coach Mark Richt said Thursday. Barber has a leg up to be punter.
Morgan made 75 percent of his field goal tries in a special teams practice on Tuesday in the stadium, but Richt wasn’t jumping for joy at that in a non-game setting.
Then Morgan said he missed from about 35 yards in Georgia’s first preseason scrimmage on his only field goal try, but Richt said “right now I would say that Marshall Morgan is our extra point and field goal guy.”
Later, he added “right this minute,” Marshall is in the lead and isn’t getting a big challenge.
The 6-foot-3, 201-pound Morgan and the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Barber are roommates and “really good friends,” Barber said. They got to know each other this summer while working out in Athens.
“They’re going to do OK,” said snapper Ty Frix, who worked with the freshmen three or four times a week in June and July. “They’re not going to come in and fill those shoes right away, but they’re darned good, both of them,”
Morgan hails from South Florida just like the man he’s in line to replace. He’s from Coral Springs. Blair Walsh is from Boca Raton.
Walsh left Georgia as the Southeastern Conference’s career points leader, but he had a subpar senior season, making just 21 of 35 field goals. Morgan drilled 10 of 12 field goals and every extra point as a senior at American Heritage High School.
“Pretty much you have to be perfect as a kicker,” Morgan said. “You go out there and you have maybe three attempts. If you miss one of them, you’re going to get some stuff for it.”
Walsh is set to make his Minnesota Vikings debut in an NFL exhibition game tonight at San Francisco after being drafted in the sixth round.
Drew Butler, Georgia’s punter the past four years, signed as an undrafted free agent with Pittsburgh.
Barber, a Cartersville High graduate, doesn’t seem fazed about replacing a guy who won the Ray Guy Award in 2009 for nation’s top punter. He grew up playing soccer just like his father and said “it never crossed my mind to put on a helmet,” but he did. He joined the football team his freshman season at a friend’s urging and averaged about 46.5 yards per game as a high school senior.
“I’ve got big shoes to fill, but I don’t believe there’s any limitations what one can achieve with determination and a great mindset,” Barber said.
Richt thinks the pressure of the job weighs on Morgan and Barber to an extent.
“They’re human,” Richt said. “They’re freshmen. Everybody’s talking about (them). I’ve been saying I think they’re very talented, I’ve got a lot of hope and faith in them. I’m sure they’re feeling it a little bit.”
Morgan is also competing with Lindley to handle kickoffs.
Morgan said Richt has talked to him about being consistent and has offered words to make him feel comfortable and confident.
Both Morgan and Barber have the raw talent, Frix said.
“They’ve got leg strength,” he said. “They’ve got everything you could want in a freshman kicker and punter. We’ve got to keep working and maximize the next three weeks to get where we need to be.”
Morgan won’t know, of course, what his first opportunity will be like in a game.
“I talked to Blair and I know every year his first kick is like from over 50 yards,” Morgan said. “I’m ready for anything right now.”