VAUGHT: Masthay to challenge for UK punting job

Few freshmen come to a Southeastern Conference football program knowing they are being counted on to fill a big void. However, incoming UK freshman Tim Masthay knows a spot could be available for him with the Wildcats this fall.

The Murray, Ky., product could easily win the job as UK's No. 1 punter and also could make a run at handling kickoff duties that Clint Ruth did so well the last two years.

"That's what some people expect, but there are some great guys already at Kentucky and the competition will be tough," said Masthay. "I guess the one thing I really have going for me is that I am fresh and I am excited. I am not jaded about anything by any means."

He also thinks kicking in Friday's Kentucky-Tennessee All-Star Game gives him an edge because it has forced him to get back to kicking, something he didn't do a lot while playing basketball and baseball.

"I haven't been doing much kicking until this week," Masthay admitted. "This is really the first week I have got out and trained hard. I am starting with the UK kickers next week, so I needed this bad."

Masthay always envisioned himself as a college placekicker. However, that changed last year when Kentucky told him the team needed a punter for the 2005 season. "That's when I started focusing on punting," Masthay said.

He said most people don't realize how much technique is involved in punting and that punting is harder than placekicking, which has a similar motion to what he used for soccer. That's why he's glad UK head coach Rich Brooks oversees the punters and pays particular attention to them.

"He is basically the punting coach. He knows a lot about punting. Other than one day at Kentucky, I have never had any really coaching when it comes to punting," Masthay said. "I played four sports in high school, so I am hoping if I just focus on punting that it can really make me a better kicker."

He says he would like to average 40 to 45 yards per punt with good hang time, a must to neutralize speedy Southeastern Conference return specialists. "Hang time, especially in the SEC, is more important than distance," he said. "If you hit it 50 yards but it is low, those guys are going to return it. It's better to be 35 yards with a lot of hang time. Then it is just a fair catch."

Masthay was adjusted to life only as a kicker during all-star practice this week, something that is not easy for a player who played football, basketball, baseball and soccer at Murray. However, there's no doubt he's all blue.

"I love the state of Kentucky. There is no greater honor for me than playing for the home state school," Masthay said. "Then I also love the coaching staff. There's not anything about Kentucky I don't like. I just can't wait to get started. This week is fun, but the real work starts next week."

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