Coutu moves up to starting kicker

ATHENS — Thousands of people knew about Brandon Coutu's promotion before he did.

Less than an hour after Coutu hit a 44-yard field goal on his first collegiate attempt to help clinch Georgia's 19-13 win over Georgia Tech on Nov. 27, Coach Mark Richt announced Coutu would be his starting kicker in the No. 8 Bulldogs' bowl game.

Apparently, Brandon Coutu doesn't read the papers. He didn't learn he was the team's starter until the following week, when offensive coordinator Neil Callaway called him in to tell him the news.

"I had no clue I'd be kicking," the freshman walk-on said.

Now that he knows, he's trying to approach the Jan. 1 Outback Bowl against No. 16 Wisconsin like he did the first 11 games of the season.

"It's going good right now," he said. "I don't see too much difference. We're still practicing like we always did."

Coutu replaces fellow freshman Andy Bailey in the starting lineup. Richt pulled Bailey from the Georgia Tech game after Bailey hit the left upright on an extra point attempt in the first half.

Bailey, who is the Bulldogs' only scholarship kicker, won the job during a tight battle in fall camp. He held it almost all year, hitting 14 of 20 field goals, but was pulled after his first missed PAT of the season. He was named to the All-SEC freshman team and finished tied for 28th in the country with 1.27 field goals per game, making 70 percent of his kicks.

"I thought 70 percent wasn't that bad," he said.

To verify his belief, he checked out the NCAA statistics and noticed that his average was better than that of more than 40 kickers around the country.

"I wasn't at the bottom of the list by no means," he said, "so I was kind of disappointed about it."

Richt is unsure if he will open the kicking competition up completely in the spring or have Coutu enter the workouts as the man to beat. Bailey is under the impression everything will be even going into spring practice, he said.

"I'm still going to work hard and get better for the spring," he said.

Coutu also expects the competition to be open again in the spring, he said, but he has an idea about how to hang onto the job.

"I think I have an opportunity. If I don't miss a kick, I'm sure I'll still be out there," he said.

Coutu was Georgia's kickoff specialist all year, a job he won about the same time he lost the place-kicking job to Bailey. He finished the season with 22 touchbacks and said his kickoff experience was invaluable during the Georgia Tech game.

"The Georgia Tech game wasn't the fist time I'd been on the field," he said. "I took pride in kicking off. It may not be the most glamorous position, but I felt like I was out there contributing. It worked out pretty good how it worked out."

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