Opening Night for Auburn Kicker

Wes Byrum discusses his upcoming collegiate debut as Auburn's kicker.

Auburn, Ala.--There is about a 50-50 chance that the first person who will touch the football for the 2007 Auburn season will be a player who is suiting up for the first time as a collegian.

That could be appropriate for an Auburn team which will be heavily counting on young players as the Tigers kick off the season on Saturday at 6:45 p.m. vs. the visiting Kansas State Wildcats at Jordan-Hare Stadium. More than 80,000 fans and a national television audience are expected to watch the contest.

"I am sure I will be pretty nervous when I get out there," says Wesley Byrum, who at this time last year was a senior at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Byrum goes into the opener as Auburn's number one kickoff specialist. He will also handle the field goal and extra point duties.

"The expectations are pretty high," says Byrum, who was one of the nation's top-rated high school kicking prospects when he signed with Coach Tommy Tuberville's team in February.

The newcomer will have a seasoned senior next to him on field goal attempts, which the kicker says is a big plus. Matthew Motley, who is expected to be the special teams captain throughout the year, has been a very reliable holder and has a knack for getting the ball spotted quickly and accurately for the kickers, even when the deep snaps leave something to be desired.

"There is not even a little piece of me that doesn't expect the ball to be perfect on the ground so that is nice to know," Byrum says of Motley's work. "I don't even worry about the hold."

The kicker also notes that Motley can quickly spot flaws in Byrum's kicking motion. "He sees basically everything that I do footwise so it helps out a lot to have him in there and he knows what he is talking about," the freshman says.

Byrum reported to Auburn in June to battle for the number one spot. He hit finished ahead of another true freshman, walk-on Graham Sutter from St. James School in Montgomery as well as Zach Kutch and Ross Gornall. When he signed with the Tigers Byrum said it was his intention to come in and start as a true freshman and keep the job for four years, just like 2006 graduate John Vaughn did.

"I was hoping I would be in this position, but I knew I would have to come in and do a lot of work before it happened," Byrum says. "The competitor from the other kickers was strong."

Byrum notes that he never got nervous prior to competing in football or soccer games at St. Thomas Aquinas, but admits the situation will be a bit different on Saturday night. "I have never been in setting like that with people everywhere," he says. "It is going to be good. It is going to be exciting."

With the new rule moving the kickoffs back five yards to the 30, Byrum's goal will be to get the football into the end zone with good hang time to give his teammates a chance to have good coverage. He has the leg strength to do it. In practice this week, Byrum had kickoffs that sailed six yards deep into the end with a 4.12 seconds hang time and eight yards deep with a 4.08 seconds hang time. Putting kickoffs into or out of the end zone was something he did regularly in high school, but that was from the 40-yard line.

The Tigers will also go with an inexperienced punter with redshirt freshman Ryan Shoemaker winning that job over freshman walk-on Patrick Tatum from Sylvania.

Wes Byrum

Saturday night's game will be just the third time the Tigers have played Kansas State. The Tigers won the first matchup 45-32 in 1978 in Manhattan, Kan., and won the rematch a year later in Auburn by a 26-18 score. The game will be televised on ESPN.

The weather forecast for kickoff on Saturday calls for temperatures in the high 70s with a 60 percent chance of a rain shower.

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