Justin Sparks has some big shoes to fill - if he gets the chance he's hoping for, that is.
Sparks is a freshman placekicker on the Ole Miss football team, a spot held by one of the nation's best in Jonathan Nichols the past few seasons.
Sparks hasn't won the job yet, it appears. As a matter of fact, he hasn't even been through an Ole Miss practice yet. That will come Saturday afternoon.
The 6-foot-3, 170-pound Briarcrest graduate, has spent the summer in Oxford working out. He looks forward to the start of preseason football camp and competing to win the job.
"I know it's definitely not going to be given to me," he says of the placekicking duties. "I know I will have to work in camp to get it. I hope I can prove myself worthy of starting and can make a difference in games.
"Hopefully there won't be any game-winning field goals because we will be so far ahead. But if it comes down to that, I want to be the guy."
The others in the mix are junior Will Moseley, a juco transfer who kicked in the spring, junior Hunter Bray, and sophomore Matt Hinkle.
Sparks, whose longest field goal in a game so far is 49 yards, says he's seen improvements because of his offseason work this summer.
"I've definitely gotten stronger, and I believe I'm better," said Sparks, chosen by all publications and sites as the best placekicker in the Memphis area last season and one of the best in Tennessee and the South. "I've already learned how to prepare better for each day, stretching more and getting ready. I used to just go out there and do a few toe touches and that would be it. But I can tell a key to some improvement has just been getting ready to workout every day."
Sparks, who didn't miss an extra point as a junior or senior and went 17-24 in the field goal department the past two seasons, said moving into the dorm Thursday was the next step on his road to college and football. It was a road he didn't think for most of his life would lead to Oxford.
Sparks' parents, Robert and Linda, are both Mississippi State alums, and Sparks himself grew up a Bulldog fan, going to many games at Scott Field. But now he sees nothing but red and blue as day one of his official Ole Miss football career is at hand.
"They (Bulldogs) recruited me, but they had signed a kicker last year," said Sparks, who will turn 19 the day before the Rebels and Memphis Tigers kick off in his hometown at the Liberty Bowl. "Even if they hadn't signed a kicker last year, I really don't know for sure that I would have gone there. I'm here now and that's what matters."
The returning Rebels hit the field earlier today, while the newcomers, including Sparks, will run out of the IPF and head to practice for the first time at 3 p.m.
"I've been here all summer, and now it's here," said Sparks, also in the hunt to be the Rebels' kickoff man as camp opens. "I've been working hard to get ready for the start of practice. I'm excited and ready to prove myself. I'm confident but not overconfident. Whatever it takes, I'll do, and whatever they need me to do, I'll do."
Justin Sparks ready to kick
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