The kicking game has been an adventure at Georgia Southern for the last two years.
Ever since the Eagles played Alabama on Nov. 19, 2011, things haven’t been quite right. Adrian Mora had a rock-solid career up until that day, but an attempted field goal was blocked by the Crimson Tide and run back for a touchdown. Things haven’t been the same since.
Mora graduated after 2011, and 2012 was a disaster. The team was a combined 8 of 22 in the field-goal department, and things got so bad that then-head coach Jeff Monken pulled Drew Ruggles off the soccer team, threw pads on him and put him on the field two days later in Fargo, North Dakota, on national television, in the semifinals of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs against N.D. State, to attempt a would-be, game-tying field goal with seconds remaining.
It was blocked.
In 2013, things began looking up. Monken recruited Younghoe Koo, who went 5 of 6 as a true freshman. Two of his makes were from 40-plus yards, and one was a game winner. Alex Hanks was 2 for 3.
But in the season finale against Florida, a 26-20 win, Koo missed two extra points.
Now, under first-year head coach Willie Fritz, Georgia Southern’s place-kicking battle has come down to Koo and Hanks.
“Hanks has done a really good job,” Fritz said. “He’s number one on extra points and kickoffs right now.”
With plenty of experience from the kickers, and junior long snapper Jake Banta entering his third straight year as a starter at the position, at least there’s consistency.
“He does a great job,” Hanks said about Banta. “It’s 100 percent with him. He’s tip-top every time. You can always count on him. We trust him a lot. We’re a fun unit. We gel and we’re friends off the field too. That really helps us be cohesive.”
“I think we have everything we need as far as special teams,” Koo added. “Between us, whoever goes out there is going to get the job done.”
While it appears the kickoff and extra-point duties belong to Hanks, and Ryan Nowicki is “far and away the No. 1” at punter, Fritz said, place kicker is still a battle.
Both kickers say the move to FBS doesn’t change anything for them, even at road trips to two ACC programs and the Georgia Dome.
“It’s all the same to me,” Koo said. “Whether we’re in North Carolina, New Mexico or Paulson Stadium, we’ve got to make the kicks.”