Coutu makes life more complicated for Richt

ATHENS – You would think having Brandon Coutu back for the 2007 season would make head coach Mark Richt's life easier.

You'd be wrong. It's not that Richt isn't glad Coutu has fully recovered from the leg injury that cost him the final seven games of the 2006 regular season. He's delighted.

It's just that now Richt's life will be more complicated on game day. Without Coutu in the lineup last year, there were fewer decisions for Richt to make.

"In some ways, he adds pressure because if you're sitting at a 52-yard attempt, and it's fourth-and-one-and-half, it's not a no-brainer anymore," Richt said. "You say, ‘Well, we can go for it, but the kid can probably make it.' More than likely, I'd kick it with him, but when he wasn't there, we knew for sure we were going for it. We didn't have to sit there and have that moment of, ‘What are we going to do?'"

While Coutu may add some stress, he also probably will add some victories. Georgia was 6-0 last year when he was in the lineup, 3-4 when he was on the sideline.

Coutu enters this year listed by ESPN analyst Mel Kiper as the top senior place-kicker in the country, and he is a preseason favorite for the Lou Groza Award and a spot on postseason All-America teams.

More importantly, he enters the season 100 percent healthy. Coutu missed time after injuring his kicking leg attempting an onside kick during practice prior to the Oct. 6 Tennessee game. The physical part wasn't the only thing that took a while to get over. The freak nature of the injury left Coutu shaking his head for months, he said.

"Every game I had to sit out, that's all I thought about, but it's in the past," he said. "I have another chance to prove what I can do and I just have to look forward to this year. I can't sit here and dwell on what could have been because I'll never know what could have been."

Coutu returned to make two extra points and three field goals, including one from 51 yards, against Virginia Tech in the Peach Bowl, and he hasn't looked back since.

"I really honestly haven't felt any kind of pain since well before the bowl game," he said. "It has definitely healed. It's not a question. I feel as strong as I ever have, and I feel like I'm getting stronger. I've done everything on my leg that I could possibly do, and I have never said one time, ‘I need to back up or stop doing this.' I've had an MRI. I‘ve checked it out. It's 100 percent healed, if not 105 percent healed. I'm working as hard if not harder this summer than I ever have."

Coutu hasn't lost any of his trademark range, he said, although he added he doesn't want that to be his trademark. The senior who is 17-for-22 from between 40 and 59 yards wants to be known for accuracy, he said.

"The most important thing to me is making field goals from 45 yards and in," he said. "Some people tell me that I have a big leg. I don't feel I have a big leg by any means. Probably half the kickers in the nation kick it as far as I can, but I just feel as long as I keep it between the goal posts, everything else will work out."

Richt is one of the people who thinks Coutu has a big leg, and he rarely think about his kicker's accuracy, he said, which is the sign of a good kicker.

"It gives you some peace that you've got a guy who can make any kick," Richt said. "If it's 55 yards, we are sitting there believing he's going to make it. If it got to 62 yards, we'd sit there and go, ‘You know this guy has got a chance to make it.'

"All the kicks in between you almost take for granted with a guy like Brandon."

Coutu is 35-for-43 on field goals for his career with only two misses from fewer than 40 yards. However, none of that matters now, he said.

"I think every season I have to reprove myself," he said. "It's a position that you're only as good as your last kick. I definitely feel I have a lot to prove and a lot that I still want to do. I don't want to get too big for my shoes or anything, especially in my position. You could miss the next kick. You could miss the next five kicks."

Coutu doesn't pay attention to the preseason accolades, he said.

"Really the only thing I control is how hard I work in the offseason," he said. "In my position, I don't know how many attempts I'll get. I might have one all year. All I can do is work on the things that I can control and put myself in position to help the team win. Everything else will take care of itself."

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