Coutu and Ely-Kelso just kicking it

ATHENS – Give Mark Richt this much, he isn't trying to take any credit after the fact for his impressive kicking duo.

"It wasn't like we went and scholarshiped them right off the bat," Richt said. "They basically were getting a tryout."

Place-kicker Brandon Coutu, a junior, and punter Gordon Ely-Kelso, a senior, came to the Bulldogs as walk-ons. They are entering the 2006 season on watch lists for national awards at their position and being publicized by the university as All-America candidates.

"I've never been on a team that has such a strong tandem," Richt said. "I can't think of any program that might have as good a tandem as we have."

Coutu and Ely-Kelso's tandem status boosts their individual notoriety, Ely-Kelso said.

"I think it's basically because we both had a pretty good year last year, and, because we're on the same team, it makes it seem better," he said. "Most stuff you read will say the best kicking duo in the country. I think we have a good chance at it."

Ely-Kelso, a product of Athens' Clarke Central High School, has been the starting punter since his freshman year but did not receive a scholarship until 2004. Last year, he was second in the SEC in average (42.9) and pinned opponents inside the 20-yard line a league-leading 22 times.

His rise from prep soccer standout to walk-on to All-America candidate isn't necessarily a shock, he said.

"I never didn't think I could do it," he said. "You've got to have goals. It's nice to (be thought of) like that, but you also have to know that every year is a different year."

Neither is Coutu surprised at his place in the SEC pecking order, and, of the duo, he's the more likely to catch the eye of national voters. After beating out scholarship kicker Andy Bailey late in 2004, Coutu led the league in scoring (8.8 points per game) and field goals (23) last year. He was third in the league in accuracy but neither kicker who topped him in that statistic hit more than 13 field goals.

Coutu, who was played on scholarship in January, also hit a 58-yard field goal against Louisiana-Monroe, setting the SEC record for longest kick made without a tee. Like Ely-Kelso, he's heard the talk surrounding their status this season.

"It's definitely nice to hear," he said. "We definitely take pride in that, and hopefully by season's end people will look at us as the best duo in the country. The preseason stuff is really based on just potential alone. All I try to worry about is what I can control and that's how hard I work."

Richt thinks his kickers are mature enough to handle his praise with a level head, he said.

"I love the pressure," Coutu said. "I wouldn't be a very good kicker I don't think if I couldn't handle pressure. I think pressure brings out the best in you. I think it pushes you to bring out all the potential you have."

Coutu will have to work hard to be the best kicker at Georgia in just the last 10 years. Billy Bennett, who graduated in 2003, left as the NCAA's leading field goal kicker (87 in his career).

"When (punter Jonathan) Kilgo was here, and Billy, they were pretty strong too," Richt said, "but I think these guys have a chance to be real special."

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