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Bennett having fun

Bennett having fun, whether warming up or delivering game-winning kicks

ATHENS, Ga. - At 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds, Billy Bennett is about half as big as some of his Georgia teammates.

In such a circumstance, it helps to have a sense of humor, and it seems that the better Bennett performs in games, the more fun he has between games.

Considering that Bennett has won back-to-back Southeastern Conference Special Teams Player of the Week honors, the junior kicker is in good humor these days.

Bennett has made 9 of 10 field goal attempts this season, including the go-ahead 32-yarder with 38 seconds left to give Georgia a 27-25 win over Alabama, and field goals of 27, 44 and 47 yards in last week's 18-13 win over Tennessee.

"Billy is the most valuable player on the team,'' receiver Damien Gary said this week. "He bails us out every time.''

For a kicker, such respect is not easily won.

"I really feel closer to a lot of the guys and I'm starting to develop relationships with a lot of people,'' Bennett said. "When you're a freshman and you're running around all goofy all the linemen hate you because they just don't know who you are and you're having a good time and they're not so everyone hates you.''

Added Bennett: "Once everyone starts to learn your personality, plus it helps when you're kicking well, they kind of start to understand your mindset.''

Even so, kicking specialists mostly hang out together, gearing up for the few minutes in each practice in which they are called on to perform, and otherwise trying to invent their own kicking games in order to kill time.

"Sometimes we'll have a camera man spying the kickers during practice just because it's so comical,'' said Coach Mark Richt. "It's a bunch of guys bored to death.''

Eventually, the practice routines tend to spill over into pregame and halftime warm-ups. Last Saturday, Bennett was the star of an impromptu halftime show at Sanford Stadium, drawing roars from the crowd as he put on a kicking exhibition.

Bennett started out with a fairly routine 35-yarder and then kept going back longer and longer, from 45 to 55 to 57 and finally, to the fans' delight, from 60 yards - well, 59 1/2 yards, according to Bennett.

"I'd never done that (in halftime or pregame warm-ups),'' Bennett said.

"It was a warm day and anytime it's warm you get real loose and I had to come out early because I was one of the captains that day. It's easy to kick those long ones when everybody is going nuts and cheering for you like that.''

Added Bennett: "I was having a lot of fun. I was glad they got into it. They thought I made the last one but it was wide but they were cheering so I was like 'yeah!' ''

Bennett leads the SEC in field goal percentage (90.0) and he is 20 for 20 in extra points, strong numbers for a player who struggled so badly in August that Richt had kickoff specialist Brett Kirouac compete for the job.

Finally, about a week before the season, Bennett found his groove.

To stay in the groove, Bennett practices ever-changing rituals  that provide a sense of familiarity and comfort. Most recently his habit is to unleash a yell right before he kicks.

"I'll back up and I'll kind of yell real loud if I'm nervous and that helps to get the jitters out,'' he said. "I used to not say anything and I used to tap my foot so many times, but I quit doing that. It is whatever one thing I can concentrate on at a time to get my mind right. It changes but it is always one little thing.''

Because he has been in the spotlight so often this season, Bennett became a topic of conversation on Richt's weekly radio call-in show with Larry Munson last Sunday night.

Munson told Richt that Bennett "with that curly hair'' was in danger of being attacked by overzealous female students.

Word quickly made its way back to Bennett.

"My dad called me and said 'You're in trouble,' '' Bennett said. "He was like 'Coach Richt said Larry Munson was talking to him about your curly hair and all the ladies and Coach Richt said you're going to have to shave your head.' Dad had me scared there for a second.''

If Bennett was still a "goofy'' freshman, his curls might be in trouble. But he need not worry.

Team MVPs can pick their own hairstyles.


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