Enter Michael Palardy, who put 98 percent of his kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks as a high school junior and 88.4 percent (38 of 43) as a senior. Critics who note that he was booting from the 40-yard line - colleges kick off from the 30 - are correct. But they haven't watched the YouTube video of Palardy putting kickoff after kickoff BEYOND the end line. Each of those booming boots traveled 70-plus yards.
If Palardy can average 70 yards per kickoff and if opponents again manage around 23 yards per return, they will be starting their average drive at the 23-yard line in 2010. That means they must drive 10 yards farther to hit paydirt than the Vols' 2009 foes. Obviously, that 10-yard gain in field position could win the Big Orange some games this fall.
Palardy also will challenge incumbent Daniel Lincoln for the placement duties. Tennessee ranked dead last among SEC teams in field-goal success last fall at 61.9 percent (13 of 21). Lincoln made just 10 of 16 attempts, struggling mightily (1 of 6) between 40 and 49 yards.
Three of Lincoln's misses last fall came in Tennessee's 12-10 loss at top-ranked Alabama, costing the Vols one of the greatest wins in program history. The last two kicks - from 43 and 44 yards in the fourth quarter - were blocked, reportedly because Lincoln was hampered by a sore quadricep muscle.
That game represents another shining example of what Palardy could mean to the 2010 Vols. Even if the rocket-legged Floridian doesn't win the placement duties this fall, he'll be available so that Lincoln won't have to attempt any more potential game-winning kicks on one leg.
Palardy, a 6-0, 170-pounder from Coral Springs, Fla., was rated the No. 1 overall kicking prospect in America last winter by Scout.com. He was voted first-team All-America by EA Sports and kicked in the prestigious U.S. Army All-America game.
He averaged a whopping 47.0 yards per punt last fall, so he could win the Vols' punting duties, as well. At the very least, he'll provide insurance in case the No. 1 punter is injured or ineffective.
Bottom line: Even if Palardy falls short in his bids to be the No. 1 placement specialist and the No. 1 punter this fall, his booming kickoffs will pay for his scholarship many times over.