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Fitzpatrick leads the way for special teams

Heather VanHoegarden | Thursday, August 26, 2004

After a game-winning field goal by a walk-on place kicker with a walk-on holder beat Navy in 2003, this year’s kicking game should be improved.Leading the way will be walk-on place kicker and punter D.J. Fitzpatrick. In 2003, he took over the starting jobs after Nicholas Setta went down against Pittsburgh with an injury. Fitzpatrick started the final eight games of the season and converted 12-of-17 field goal attempts, including the game-winner against Navy. But this year will be different for the senior, as he knows he is the starting place kicker, and maybe punter.”Last year I was just kind of thrown into the mix, so this year I got that good year under my belt, I’m a lot more comfortable, and I don’t have to worry about fighting off the nerves,” Fitzpatrick said. “I can just go in there and do what I know how to do and relax.”Fitzpartick said he is more prepared this year for the expectations.”Last year, I didn’t even have time to think about it, I was just kind of thrown into the mix and whatever happened, happened,” he said. “This year, the expectations are higher from others and from myself. So I’m definitely more confident, and want to get out there and see what I can do and help the team as much as I can.”At the punting position, the battle is still underway for the starting spot. Redshirt freshman Geoffrey Price is competing with Fitzpatrick, despite having no collegiate experience. Price shined in the spring Blue-Gold game, booting six punts for an average of 45.8 yards, including punts of 64 and 55 yards. He handled the kicking duties throughout that game.”The spring game was good,” Price said. “I enjoyed that. The beginning of camp, I think I was doing pretty well. I’ve had a couple of off days lately. Now I just have to get focused and get back on track, hopefully.”Coach Tyrone Willingham said he is still waiting to see who will emerge as the team’s punter.”We’re still very much in a competition there with Geoff Price and D.J. Fitzpatrick, so we don’t know how that one is going to shake out or when it will shake out,” Willingham said. “But hopefully we’ll know something by the time we start this ballgame [against BYU].”Willingham also said he is looking for consistency, but would prefer a kicker who can be “spectacular.””When you start to work your way backwards, I say, that’s the issue of being consistent,” Willingham said. “What you would love to have is spectacular. If we get spectacular now, I’ll probably be very happy. But if you can’t get spectacular, then what you want is consistency.”Fitzpatrick worked on his punting game over the summer after averaging 36.8 yards per punt in 2003.”I worked all spring, summer, earlier this fall,” the senior said. “I really worked hard on my punting game because that was the downside of my experience last year. My kicking’s coming along great, so I’m excited to get this year going. “It’s great having a guy like Geoff pushing me, knowing that someone is nipping right at your heels wanting your job, so everything’s up in the air. These positions are ‘What-have-you-done-for-me-lately’ type positions, so I’m just trying to do the best I can. So whatever coach decides, whoever ends up out there is going to do a good job.”Although the kicking game is not set in stone, the return game has the potential to be exciting. Junior Rhema McKnight will be the primary return man, and senior Carlyle Holiday could also see action.