Vols add elite kicker

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One of America's premier place-kicking prospects is going to be a Tennessee Volunteer.

Andrew Gantz, a senior at Centerville (Ohio) High School ranked No. 6 in his class by renowned kicking guru Chris Sailer, is passing on scholarship offers from three programs to join the Big Orange as a preferred walk-on.

Gantz announced his decision earlier today on Twitter, then confirmed it in a telephone interview with InsideTennessee. The deal was sealed when he and his parents drove from Centerville to Knoxville on Wednesday for a tour of Tennessee's campus.

"I had two offers before (Utah, Portland State)," he recalled. "On the way down, I got a call from Nevada's head coach with an offer."

Once he arrived in Knoxville and got an up-close look at Tennessee's campus, however, the 5-foot-10, 175-pound Gantz was simply blown away.

"I wasn't expecting to see what I saw," he said. "The facilities are unreal. It was a rainy day, so I can't imagine what it's like on nice, sunny fall days. I saw Oregon's facilities and thought those would be best in the country till I set foot on Tennessee's campus."

His visit included quality time with Vol head coach Butch Jones and special-teams coordinator Mark Elder, two men who previously recruited him for the University of Cincinnati.

"I had the same feel with them when they were at Cincinnati," Gantz said. "It's a different ball game with Coach Jones and Coach Elder. It's a different feel with them. They're genuinely good guys. They're straight shooters. They tell you the truth."

One thing they told Gantz is that Tennessee will spring some big surprises when National Signing Day unfolds on Wednesday.

"Our recruiting class coming in, there's going to be some serious stuff happen Wednesday," Gantz said. "You know that big-time receiver (Marquez North) Tennessee got last night? Well, there's going to be a lot more signings like that happening on Wednesday."

If you get the idea Gantz can't wait to play for the Vols, you'd be right.

Michael Palardy is 23 of 33 from field-goal range and 75 of 80 on extra points in his three years at Tennessee.
(Danny Parker/InsideTennessee.com)
"Coach Jones is amazing and the facilities are great," he said. "And the people who saw me on my recruiting visit were genuine, nice people. It's just a feel I haven't gotten anyplace else I've been."

Tennessee returns three scholarship place-kickers for 2013. Senior Michael Palardy made 9 of 12 field-goal tries last fall with a long of 38 yards. Senior Derrick Brodus, recently placed on scholarship, made 6 of 7 with a long of 37. Palardy missed three of 37 PAT attempts, however, and Brodus missed two of 14. George Bullock, a 2012 signee, missed the season with a broken leg and will be a redshirt freshman this fall.

Despite the competition, Gantz is confident he'll be Tennessee's No. 1 place-kicker in 2013.

"I talked with Coach Elder for an hour and a half, and he thinks I can start for four years," Gantz said. "They (Elder and Jones) want me to come in and win the starting position next year. They saw what I can do when they were at Cincinnati."

Tennessee's interest in Gantz is based mostly on his performance in assorted camps. Playing for one of the top offensive teams in Ohio, he attempted just four field goals during his high school career. He made a 41-yarder and a 45-yarder, missed a 46-yarder, then had one blocked under extenuating circumstances.

"We had two holders hurt," Gantz explained, "so we were down to our third holder."

For what it's worth, he was 3 for 3 in preseason scrimmages at Centerville, with a long field goal of 50 yards.

Gantz' stellar work at kicking camps is what earned him a national reputation. He was ranked sixth among high school seniors at Sailer's recent National Kicking Event in Las Vegas, a camp that drew nearly 500 competitors.

"I rarely ever miss a field goal," he said. "If it's a good snap and hold, I almost always make it. And I averaged 73 yards on kickoffs with a 4.29 hang time in summer camps."

To put that 73-yard kickoff average in perspective, Palardy averaged 61.6 yards on kickoffs last fall, Brodus 62.5.

Given the strength of Gantz' right leg, it's no surprise that he recorded touchbacks on 68 percent of his kickoffs as a high school junior. That figured dropped to 48 percent as a senior, mostly because of a change in philosophy.

"We did more directional kickoffs," he said. "We ended up tackling the opponent inside the 15-yard line 38 times. Obviously, that beats just kicking it in the end zone and letting them start at the 20."

Gantz said he hit 100 percent of his PAT tries in high school but shared that duty with a fellow senior in 2012 at his head coach's request.

"It was a weird situation," Gantz said. "The other guy had been kicking since fifth grade, so Coach thought he should at least get to kick point-afters."

Gantz also did some punting at Centerville, averaging 35 yards as a junior and "a little over 38" as a senior.

In announcing Gantz' decision to be a preferred walk-on at Tennessee, Sailer had this to say on his website:

"Andrew is an outstanding kicker. He is a great athlete that kicks with nice consistency. Field goals are near the top of his class and kickoffs are D1 ready. A fine young man with a great attitude and work ethic. Kicks well under pressure. Has all the tools to excel at the college level. Is going to be a fine college kicker. Great pick up for Tennessee."

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