Marshall Morgan found himself on the bottom of a dog pile on Neyland Stadium‚Äôs field.
He wanted to celebrate the Bulldogs‚Äô win over Tennessee, but was pinned down by offensive linemen who tip the scales way beyond his 200-pound frame.
So, first things first.
‚ÄúI was trying to get them off me. That‚Äôs a lot of weight. I‚Äôve got asthma,‚Äù Morgan quipped.
It was Morgan‚Äôs overtime, game-winning 42-yard field goal that landed the sophomore kicker underneath a gaggle of his teammates. It was Morgan‚Äôs first pressure-cooker situation, and it helped change what he‚Äôs been hearing this season.
‚ÄúAfter the LSU game, I really noticed that just the teammates, they would compliment me more,‚Äù said Morgan, who hit on 24-, 55- and 38-yard attempts against LSU. ‚ÄúThey have a lot more faith in me. Before the game, they are a lot more positive towards me. ‚Ä¶ After the Tennessee kick, now I think they really have gained a lot more confidence.‚Äù
It took Morgan a while before he could firmly declare that he is comfortable in his role as a starting kicker for a Division I program. The Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., native struggled mightily last year in his first season, converting just 57.1 percent of his field goal attempts (8 of 14). He also missed four extra point attempts.
There were some growing pains as he transitioned from high school to college ‚Äî no more kicking from tees, an entire new team around him, significantly larger crowds with a full arsenal of phrases to shout.
‚ÄúI didn‚Äôt want to give myself credit,‚Äù Morgan said of his freshman year. ‚ÄúI didn‚Äôt want to try to tell myself I had a great season because I didn‚Äôt.‚Äù
Georgia coach Mark Richt said he didn‚Äôt know why Morgan struggled during his freshman season. He added that Morgan‚Äôs high school film was a reminder that he could boot it consistently and on long attempts.
So Morgan set out to have a good spring and an even better preseason camp, both of which Richt said he did.
But a self-constructed speed bump slowed Morgan ‚Äî a boating-under-the-influence arrest over the summer led to a skid-stop.
‚ÄúObviously, he couldn‚Äôt kick the first two games, which was sad,‚Äù Richt said.
Morgan was suited up and stuck on the sidelines of Georgia‚Äôs first two games this season ‚Äî a three-point loss at Clemson and an 11-point win at home over South Carolina.
Punter Collin Barber took over kickoff duties in Morgan‚Äôs stead and walk-on Patrick Beless handled field goals, making two against South Carolina, and extra points.
‚ÄúThat really made me realize that my job is special, and I can‚Äôt take it for granted,‚Äù he said.
Morgan served his two-game suspension, calling it tough to sit out. He said he wanted his 2013 debut and season to eventually overshadow his offseason arrest and trump the tribulations of last season.
‚ÄúI saw all the things I did wrong,‚Äù Morgan said of his kicking game. ‚ÄúThey were easily fixable. It‚Äôs just a few things here and there.‚Äù
There was more focus on extra-point precision and refining his kickoff repertoire ‚Äî allowing his special teams tacklers a chance to pin the returner inside the 20-yard line or gunning for a touchback.
A North Texas 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown made coaches more inclined to side with the latter in Georgia‚Äôs two games since.
‚ÄúThe guy was kicking 4.1-, 4.2-(second) hang time, which is a long time to hang a kickoff,‚Äù Richt said. ‚ÄúMost of our tackles were inside the 20 with that unit. Of course, you get the one that goes to the house and then you start saying, ‚ÄòLet‚Äôs just try to knock it out.‚Äô That‚Äôs been more on me than anything else, and I think he‚Äôs doing a lot better job with that.‚Äù
Richt‚Äôs ultimate vote of confidence in Morgan came moments before the kicker took the field during overtime in Neyland Stadium.
‚ÄúHe said something referring to me being his guy, his kicker,‚Äù recalled Morgan, who has established a mentor-mentee relationship with former Georgia kicker Kevin Butler. ‚Äú‚Ä¶ He said, ‚ÄòYou got this.‚Äô‚Äù
Then Morgan had to turn the screams of 102,000 people into comforting white noise, become deaf to the things Tennessee‚Äôs sideline yelled his way and stay warm through the Volunteers‚Äô attempt to ice him.
In Morgan‚Äôs zone, it‚Äôs just him, holder Adam Erickson and long snapper Nathan Theus going through the regular motions.
‚ÄúYou just got to picture yourself in practice, kicking down on the bottom field,‚Äù he said.
Morgan survived his first overtime test, something he called a dream of his, and now has to push through kickers‚Äô ‚Äúhero or zero‚Äù circumstance. The cliche says a kicker is noticed only in clutch moments, good or bad, makes or misses.
‚ÄúI can‚Äôt let it get to my head,‚Äù Morgan said. ‚Äú‚Ä¶ I just got to keep doing, keep working hard and hopefully this keeps happening.‚Äù