This year's Mr. Football for kickers went to the multi-talented Bryant Hahnfeldt of Nashville-Montgomery Bell Academy. The 5-foot-10, 180-pounder handled all the kicking chores for the Big Red, punting for a 39-yard average, hitting 17-of-23 field goals, and consistently placing his kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks.
Traditionally, most major universities are extraordinarily miserly when it comes to doling out scholarships for kickers. But Hahnfeldt has been in serious talks over the last few days with two in-state colleges, and at this point, it's shaping up as a two-team race for his services.
Tennessee head coach Phillip Fulmer met with Hahnfeldt and his father last Thursday for over two hours on the MBA campus. The next day, after school, Hahnfeldt headed to the Vanderbilt campus for a 48-hour official visit weekend. (He didn't have to travel far, as MBA is just down West End from the Vandy campus.)
Going into the weekend, Hahnfeldt had no offers, his father Edward Hahnfeldt told Scout.com. Both schools are doing all they can to encourage the MBA star to walk on, but at this point it may take a scholarship offer for one of them to secure his commitment.
"I think he's pretty much settled in his mind on Vanderbilt or UT," said Mr. Hahnfeldt. "I'm not sure which school, if either, will offer. I think if one does, the other might too."
It's playing out as a giant poker game between the two schools and the Hahnfeldts, who are badly wanting to solidify Bryant's college choice and get the decision over with.
"We went up to UT a few weeks ago and spent the whole day with them," said Edward. "We were invited, but it wasn't an 'official' visit. It was back before they went to the bowl game."
Both schools are talking to Hahnfeldt about competing for all the kicking jobs. At Tennessee, he'd have a chance to replace graduated punter Dustin Colquitt, and would compete with Hendersonville's James Wilhoit, a rising junior, for placekicking duties.
Vanderbilt also graduated its punter (Abtin Iranmanesh), but still has one other punter and two placekickers on scholarship. But the Commodores' weaknesses in the kicking game are well-documented-- Vandy missed five extra points this season, including two in the Tennessee game, and a missed PAT resulted in a 14-13 loss to Kentucky.
Should neither school offer a scholarship, Tennessee may hold the upper hand because of its cheaper, in-state tuition rate. Tuition at Vanderbilt can run upwards of $40,000 per year.
"I guess the worst-case scenario [cost-wise] would be for him to walk on and go to UT," says Edward Hahnfeldt, who will have to foot the bills if Bryant walks on, but who is still optimistic about a scholarship offer.
"I figure if you want to go to school to play football, you can't do better than go to UT. And if you want to get a great education, you go to Vanderbilt. They're both great schools. We'll support Bryant in whatever decision he makes."
So how did the younger Hahnfeldt like his Vanderbilt visit last weekend? It was great, and he enjoyed it, Bryant said Sunday night, but that's about all we could coax him to say. He's still deep in the throes of the decision-making process. Plenty of scenarios could play out between now and Feb. 2, and his story could easily still be going beyond that. We'll do our best to keep you posted.