Vols Angle for Specialists

With so much focus on a floundering, ineffective offense that has failed to execute, much less excite or entertain in recent seasons, chronic problems with Tennessee's kicking game have often been overlooked although their capacity for sabotaging success can't be overstated.

I refer you to No. 6 of General Robert R. Neyland's Seven Maxims of Football which states, "Press the kicking game because this is where the breaks are made."

The General's tried and true formula was always based on a rock solid defense and an outstanding kicking game. Add those elements to an efficient single-wing offense that could control the ball without turning it over, and you have the means to compile a 172-31-12 record in 21 seasons.

There are many components that have to come together to comprise a quality kicking game, but it begins with the specialists i.e. punters and kickers. Despite the importance of the players that put the foot in football, not all programs award scholarships to punters and kickers, preferring instead to have candidates walk on and prove themselves.

There is merit to that approach as has been proven time and time again by a long list of former soccer players that have walked on somewhere and kicked their way to instant gridiron stardom. The walk-on and tryout method has also been shown the most pragmatic by the bevy of busts among scholarship kickers and punters who sign. Remember Justin Reed who was signed as punter out of Charlotte High School in Punta Gorda, Fla., but never punted in a game. For those that saw him punt in practice that was no surprise, but it was shocking to USA Today which named him a second team All-American after averaging a reported 47.4 yards per punt as a senior. Reed, who was supposedly signed sight unseen at the end of the 2001 recruiting campaign, did play some tight end and caught a TD pass against Florida in 2004 but that was the extent of his gridiron success.

And then there's the case of kicker Steven Lee who was signed by the Vols in 2000 but never got into a game. He later transferred to Division II Jacksonville State where he started but often struggled, missing eight extra points during his senior season. At one point in his career there he lost the place kicking job to the first female to play in an NCAA game.

On the other hand there have been some productive walk-on specialists who earned a scholarship such as kicker Alex Walls (1999-2002) and punter Tom Hutton (1991-1994).

Under KIffin the Vols appear ready to take the plunge back into the specialist market with offers made to Will Hagerup, a 6-foot-4, 210-pound punter from the unlikely location of Whitefish Bay, Wis., and to Michael Paralay, a 6-foot-1, 170-pound place kicker from St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Hagerup averaged 39 yards per punt as a sophomore with only two even returned due to his hang time and accuracy. He upped his average to 41.2 yards per punt last year in addition to playing tight end and linebacker. He is athletic enough to become an extra defender on coverage and he has a powerful kicking leg capable of flipping field position. The Vols aren't the only team to recognize his punting skills as he also has offers from Florida, Arkansas, Wisconsin, Indiana, Iowa State and Purdue. Michigan, Northwestern and Iowa are also considering offers.

During spring break Hagerup reportedly took unofficial visits to Florida, Tennessee, Arkansas, Indiana and Purdue. He said he doesn't have a leader but the home state Badgers are believed to be the team to beat.

Palardy is coming off an outstanding junior season in which he made 76 of 78 extra points and 5 of 6 field goals. Perhaps his most impressive achievement was putting 98 percent of his kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks. In the 5A state title game, Palardy put all seven of his kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks. Four of those kickoffs reportedly went through the end zone on the fly.

A soccer player since the age of two Palardy is a stellar student with a 3.7 GPA and a 1640 SAT score. He is weighing offers from a favorite's list that includes Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Miami, Syracuse and Tennessee.

Inside Tennessee will follow the recruitment of Hagerup and Palardy as Kiffin & Co. attempt to put their best foot forward.

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