Ely-Kelso has a secret

ATHENS — Gordon Ely-Kelso has a secret.

He's been praised all season long by coach Mark Richt for his unselfishness and willingness to sacrifice his personal average for the good of the team, but the truth must be told.

"Personally, I like to bomb a punt, be backed up and hit a real long one," the Georgia junior said.

Ely-Kelso has a long of 60 yards this year and his average of 42.6 is the third best in the SEC, but the real story of his season is told in the smaller details. Sixteen of his 29 kicks, a whopping 55.2 percent, have pinned an opponent inside its 20-yard line. Eight times, he's kept an opponent inside its 10.

That kind of field position is devastating to an offense, said Richt, whose team battles Florida today in Jacksonville, Fla.

"Unless you're going to make a long play for a touchdown, which doesn't happen a lot, you have to go a minimum of 10, 12, 15 plays to score," he said. "That's a lot of plays in a row not to mess it up."

And Ely-Kelso is on a roll. Seven of his kicks to inside the 10-yard line have come in the last four games.

"You definitely kind of start getting a feel," Ely-Kelso said. "Kicking is a lot of repetition. Once you get a feel for it, it's kind of muscle memory."

Thanks in part to Ely-Kelso's willingness to sacrifice distance for hang time and placement, Georgia is second in the SEC and eighth in the country in net punting. Bulldogs opponents average just 1.5 yards per kick return.

"(Former punter Jonathan) Kilgo was that way too probably, but I think I was just so busy and so in the weeds sometimes my first year, I didn't really think to talk much about a guy like that," Richt said. "The longer I've been in this position and playing in this league and realizing how crucial the field position is, I'm more apt to say something I guess."

Georgia assistant coach John Eason stills holds the FAMU single-season punting record and was the Montreal Alouettes' emergency punter during his one season playing in the Canadian Football League, so he knows the look of a quality kicker.

"I think (Ely-Kelso) has a very good mentality for a punter," Eason said. "He takes pride in his punting. He loves to punt. You have to be careful sometimes to watch him because you don't want him to over kick."

It wasn't always that way. Gordon Ely-Kelso had to be begged and bribed to ever step on a football field. Growing up in Athens, he was always a soccer player, and that's the only sport that ever interested him in high school. However, the football team needed a punter, and coach Steve Brooks approached Ely-Kelso about the job.

Approached, actually, is the wrong word.

"I didn't want to do it, and he kind of forced me," Ely-Kelso said. "I did pretty good, but even the next year, I still wasn't going to play because I was so into soccer, but he said I didn't have to come to camp and I could come to practice a couple times a week, so it was a pretty good deal. I ended up doing it."

The first game of Ely-Kelso's senior season was against Houston County, and it was his breakout performance.

"After that, (Brooks) said, ‘You should probably think about doing this for real,'" Ely-Kelso recalled.

He's certainly doing it for real now. His kicking earned him a scholarship prior to this season.

"I think I've had a pretty good year so far, but I don't want to count my chickens before they're hatched or whatever," he said. "There's a long way to go, and I think we can definitely get a lot better."

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