Calling on Help from Friend

ATHENS - All <b>Andy Bailey</b> needed was a little help from a friend. Struggling with his form and perhaps just days from losing the starting kicking job he was signed to fill, the Georgia freshman called Matt Walden. It was Walden who preceded Bailey as the place-kicker at McMinn County High School and went on to kick at Central Florida.

Andy Bailey and Walden decided that a change was needed, so Bailey altered his technique by shortening the horizontal steps on his setup to the ball.

"It's meant the world to me," he said, "everything just started clicking."

Bailey has missed only two of dozens of kicks since, and that accuracy has earned him the role of first-string kicker for the No. 3 Bulldogs as they prepare for their Sept. 4 season-opener against Georgia Southern. Bailey made that call just in time, although he didn't know it.

Days later, the Bulldogs held a kicking scrimmage at Sanford Stadium.

At that point, walk-on Brandon Coutu led the kicking battle and appeared to be one Bailey slip from taking the job. Bailey responded with a 5-for-6 performance to tie the race.

"I really didn't know Monday was that big a factor until I read it in the newspaper (the next day)," said Bailey, a redshirt freshman from Athens, Tenn. "I was happy I did well, but I didn't realize the significance of it."

On Friday, Georgia had another kicking scrimmage, and, this time, Bailey nailed every single one, prompting Georgia to move him to No. 1 on the depth chart. Assistant coach David Johnson and Coach Mark Richt have refrained from calling Bailey the starter because they say Coutu still has a chance to win the job.

Still, it's clear the coaches are impressed by the way Bailey is striking the ball since his change. They're almost as impressed by the mental toughness he displayed in coming back from the brink of a huge disappointment to the top of the depth chart.

"He's reacted in a very positive way to the different situations we put him under," said Johnson, who coordinates the field goal team. "That's a credit to him and his demeanor, and how he's attacked this whole season so far."

The pressure on Bailey was even greater since he's on scholarship and Coutu is a walk-on. Johnson said that wasn't a factor in the coaches' minds, but it was for Bailey.

"That's what they brought me here to do," said Bailey, the only placekicker on scholarship and the first kicker Georgia has given a scholarship to straight out of high school in recent memory. "They were thinking I'd win the job or they'd be wasting a scholarship."

What convinced Georgia to offer aid to Bailey was a booming leg that convinced his high school coach to let him attempt at least nine field goals from 50 or more yards during his senior year.

Bailey's leg is so powerful that Georgia's coaches expected him to immediately win the kickoff job and play as a true freshman. However, he struggled with accuracy and consistency and never got on the field. He is still struggling with his kickoffs, but he predicts that might change now.

"I was just all about field goals," he said. "Now that my confidence level is so high, I can work on kickoff a little more."

Bailey said he'd feel confident hitting a field goal from 55 yards during a game.

"On a good day, maybe back it up a little bit," he said.

Said Johnson: "He's always had a strong leg, that's never been a question. It's just a matter of him hitting it like he can."

While Bailey is comfortable he can hit from 50-plus yards, he doesn't want to trot on the Sanford Stadium field for his first kick and be staring at a long field goal try.

"I'd love to a have a little chip-shot extra point first just to settle my nerves," he said. "I know I'm going to be nervous, that's inevitable."

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