LEXINGTON, Ky. --- Mark Nelson scoffs at the notion his kicking specialists should look more like accountants in football jerseys than the rest of the Wildcats who mix it up in the trenches every Saturday.
"We want all our kickers to become better athletes," Nelson said. "We want them bigger, stronger and faster. If I'm bigger, stronger and faster, that means I can get my leg through the ball faster. I've got that power.
"In reality, a lot of high school kickers are running backs or whatever who eventually give up kicking. And some of those kids could become great kickers because of the explosion they have in their legs."
Case in point: junior punter Glenn Pakulak.
At a sculpted 6-foot-3, 232 pounds, Pakulak catches some by surprise while milling around the specialists in UK's camp. The former three-sport prep star at East High School in Lapeer, Mich., was an all-league linebacker as a senior, recording 89 tackles and four sacks, but acknowledged that "not many SEC linebackers run a 5.1 in the 40."
So he's trying to become the most physically impressive --- and effective --- punter in the league.
Pakulak punted in the final three games last season after the UK staff decided to limit Seth Hanson, who was handling all kicking duties, to place kicks due to fatigue in his left leg. Pakulak punted 12 times for an average of 37.8 yards per kick. He had a long effort of 47 yards against Tennessee.
With a greater emphasis on special teams from the new UK staff, he's looking to improve upon those figures this season. He appears to be well on this way.
"He did better today (Saturday) than what I've seen before," Nelson said of Pakulak, who had consecutive punts of 71, 68 and 63 yards during the afternoon session. "So far in practice we've punted against the wind, this was the first day we punted with the wind."
During UK's Media Day, head coach Guy Morriss said the Cats will gamble less and place a greater emphasis on the punting game in 2001.
"I don't know where else in the game you exchange more real estate," he said. "That's a huge part of a football game, field position, so we're going to always try to be on the positive side of that."
Pakulak will be backed by Anthony Thornton, a sophomore from Louisville who saw action on the UK junior varsity team in 2000. The Cats can also call on Hanson, who averaged 37.1 yards per kick last season.
While the Cats' punting situation should be secure, there is a three-way competition for the placekicking job. Senior Seth Hanson (another impressive athlete at 6-2, 194 pounds) is the incumbent. He converted 15 of 17 field goals and 23 of 24 extra points in being named a semifinalist for the 2000 Lou Groza Award.
"He has to be beaten out," Nelson said of Hanson. "It's not written in stone, but right now he should get the nod. He's a veteran kicker, he was 15 out of 17 last year, and he's kicked some winning field goals in some pressure situations.
"But we still have two weeks to go, so there's going to be two weeks of competition. If it's close, you know you've got to beat a champ, you can't just come close."
Those attempting to dethrone Hanson are sophomore Clint Ruth and true freshman Taylor Begley.
"Clint Ruth did a great job this spring," Nelson said. "I think, percentage-wise, he was second on the team this spring. He's got a strong leg, too, just like the other kickers. He's a very good kicker, a very accurate kicker."
"He's got a lively, strong leg," Nelson said of Begley, the former Boyle County all-stater who set a national record for points by a kicker in a season (148) by hitting 17 of 20 field goals and coverting 97 of 98 extra points. "He's a good young kicker."
Begley connected on all of his attempts in Saturday's drills, including field goals of 42 and 52 yards.
"They've all had good days and bad days, but it's very important that we perform on Saturdays," added Nelson, noting Hanson's game experience.
Nelson declined to speculate on possible redshirts for either Ruth or Begley, but he said neither player would be used unless they could significantly help the team.
"Also, you don't want to take a young man's year of eligibility for two or three kicks," he said.
Pakulak is expected to handle the placeholding responsibilities. Backup quarterback Shane Boyd has also taken some reps at that position during two-a-days.
The Cats' kickoff duties are expected to be handled by senior Stephen Scaldaferri, who performed that job in the final three games of 2000 after excelling on the junior varsity team. Scaldaferri is not currently in camp due to a summer miscommunication with Morriss which resulted in him being left off the 105-man roster, but has been working out independently until he can legally join team workouts after classes begin at UK.
Ruth and Begley are also candidates to handle kickoffs. Ruth kicked off 31 times last season as a true freshman, recording three touchbacks.
Through the Saturday, Aug. 18, practice sessions, the Cats had yet to work on live kickoffs.
"Right now, I wouldn't want to say," Nelson said. "We haven't done enough yet, but if you go back to spring, Scaldaferri was kicking the ball six yards deeper than everybody else."
The Cats' return units are also undecided, said Nelson, although he's narrowing his candidates.
"We've had a bunch of guys working back there: Brad Pyatt, (Ernest) Simms, Dougie Allen. (Derek) Abney can do it. We've got several guys who can do it," he said. "The thing we're got to look at is we've got great frontline people, then it gets a little thin at positions, the whole team. So we've got to pick and choose our strengths, where to place kids, and what's going to be best for the team."
Others who have worked on punt returns in practice include junior cornerback Derrick Tatum and freshman walk-on receiver DeMarcus Wood. Junior running back Martez Johnson is expected to work on kickoff returns when the team begins those drills. He averaged 15.8 yards per return last year on 11 attempts
The punt returns will be a tougher decision.
"It's a little easier to return kickoffs," Nelson said. "Punts