ATHENS – The moment that stands out to William Ham is the restaurant. It was summer, and he was back home in Macon, passing the time by making some extra money. Then football came on the TV.
It was a re-run of the Georgia-Florida game in 2014. Ham had been on that Georgia team, but didn’t make the trip, taking a redshirt year. And he had quit the team after the season, thinking he was done with football, but felt regret when he saw punter Collin Barber and kicker Marshall Morgan.
“Those guys were my best friends when I was on the team,” Ham said. “And to just know that I wouldn’t be able to play with them was kinda sad.”
Ham wouldn’t end up being Morgan’s teammate again. Instead, he’s become his replacement.
After returning to the team earlier this year, Ham won the place-kicker job in the preseason, and kicked the field goal that put Georgia ahead for good in its season-opening win over North Carolina.
It wasn’t a flawless game for Ham, whose first field-goal attempt was wide left from 42 yards. And his one made field goal, from 29 yards, wasn’t pretty, knuckling through the uprights. But he made all his extra points, got some kickoff attempts too, and remains the guy – for now.
“That job will always be open for competition. How they kick during the week is important to know,” head coach Kirby Smart said Monday, then added: “Right now, Ham is our field-goal kicker.”
Two years ago, Ham came to Georgia as a preferred walk-on, hoping to eventually replace Morgan, who was at that point entering his junior year. Ham had kicked at Macon’s Stratford Academy, where he played on a state championship soccer team, but also made all-state in football as a place-kicker.
Ham redshirted in 2014, which was the plan, and was in position to be Morgan’s top back-up and heir apparent. But something didn’t feel right.
“I was just really questioning myself, if I really loved football,” Ham said. “I think a lot of new football players ask that question all the time. I just wanted to give myself a chance to live as a regular college student.”
That’s what Ham did, leaving after the season, sitting out the 2015 season, content to walk the same campus his father Neal and sister Rachel had walked.
But as he worked at the Macon restaurant that summer, he realized he may have made a mistake.
“Seeing my friends out there, I just really missed playing with them,” Ham said. “I saw that I loved football, and wanted to be back.”
Georgia’s coaches also wanted him back. They had recruited another walk-on, Rodrigo Blankenship, but when Ham expressed interest in returning, then-coach Mark Richt and his staff were eager to bring him back. When Smart and new special-teams coordinator Shane Beamer came aboard, Ham was an unexpected, and welcome, re-addition.
When he took the field for his first field-goal try, Ham may have had a combination of nerves and rustiness, having not kicked in a real game in three years. He thought he kicked the 42-yarder, but deviated from his fundamentals; he looked up too quickly.
“That’s a kicker’s first mistake,” he said.
The next time he got it right.
“I learned from my miss. I knew what I did wrong,” he said. “So I went back out there and tried to make it right.”
The same philosophy, as it was, for Ham’s Georgia football career.