At the end of the 2000 football season, Marshall coach Bob Pruett suddenly found himself desperately needing help at the kicker spot. Senior J.R. Jenkins was lost to graduation, leaving only punter Curtis Head to pick up the slack at the kicking spot. Head, junior from Shelbyville, KY, has been the Herd's go-to punter since his first day at Marshall. Head's kicking abilities were not well known, and that didn't matter one bit to Curtis Head.
Marshall punter/kicker Curtis Head
"I want to make sure I work on kicking, I want to give it the best shot that I can. But at the same time, I understand that chances are I'm going to be the punter, and chances are that eventually one of them is going to be the kicker," Head commented at practice Monday afternoon.
The 'them' Head referred to are true freshmen Sam Erny (5-11, 190, Louisville, KY) and walk-on Nick Kelly (6-1, 195, Chesapeake, VA). Erny and Kelly have provided some solid kicking skills in only two full days of practice, each hoping to earn the starting job by the end of August. However, it's not like the two are enemies. Quite the contrary, according to Erny.
Marshall freshman kicker Sam Erny
"Any time you're out practicing with somebody that's a good player, then it's going to obviously make you a better player," Erny said. "I don't know if I'm going to be the kicker. Nothing is set in stone. I'm just trying to work hard and do what I can to get a starting spot."
Kelly may come in as the underdog in this battle, but he sure hasn't show any signs of being that underdog yet. Both Kelly and Erny alternate when kicking field goals at the beginning of practice (with a semi-live rush), and alternate when doing kick-off drills at the end of practice. Both kick equally well, to the untrained eye.
Marshall freshman walk-on kicker Nick Kelly
"Head is the clear-cut starter," Marshall coach Bob Pruett said at practice Monday. "Now, these other guys have to come in and prove they're better than him. They've both got good legs. We'll just see."
In addition to Head, Erny, and Kelly, you can add in Ben Lewis, a 5-11, 188-pound sophomore from Georgia. AND, you can add in one more kicker to-be-named, who will join the Marshall camp in the coming weeks, according to Pruett. A total of five, where there used to only be one.
"It ought to be fun to watch, to see how it pans out," Curtis Head said Monday. "I like having the good kickers in here, because bottom line is, when it comes down to it on September first, we need guys who can get in there and make field goals from whereever they ask us to kick."
"I'd much rather win having one of them being the kicker because they're better than I am, than lose a game because I miss a field goal because I'm the kicker that had to play because we didn't have anybody else."
Needless to say, the winner of the kicking battle in summer drills will get the honor of a trial-by-fire at The Swamp in Gainesville on September 1. Trial-by-fire, indeed.
And don't forget: Marshall coach Bob Pruett is unafraid to play a true freshman in a big-time out-of-conference game on the road. Remember Curtis Head's first punt?
It came on the road at Clemson in 1999. In the end zone. At Death Valley.
And, Head had to punt from the end zone three times due to penalties. One would like to say it couldn't get any worse than that. However, the legend of The Swamp dictates otherwise.