CHINA GROVE, N.C. — Here in a rural part of central North Carolina, Georgia’s new punter is already thinking about his first kick. And the man who may be receiving it.
“I’m big on hang time,” Marshall Long is saying, while sitting at a table in the media center at South Rowan High School, where he graduates in one month. “You hit a 60-yard punt and it won’t matter if it’s in the air for three-and-a-half seconds. Switzer’s gonna run it back if it’s only in the air for three seconds.”
“Don’t let that happen,” interrupted his friend Heath Barringer, who was South Rowan’s quarterback.
“I can’t let that happen,” Long said.
“Switzer” is understood on first reference here in North Carolina, where Ryan Switzer has established himself as — to put it in Georgia terms — the Isaiah McKenzie of the North Carolina football team. He was a first-team All-ACC specialist last year, when he had two punt return touchdowns and a 13.7-yard average return. He was first-team All-America by the FWAA as a freshman, when he tied the NCAA single-season record with five punt return touchdowns.
Long, who grew up a Tar Heels basketball fan (but more neutral football-wise) is headed to Georgia, which opens the season against Switzer and North Carolina in Atlanta on Sept. 3.
Of course, the first thing Long has to do is actually win the punting job. That seems an eventuality, as teams don’t give out scholarships to punters in order to sit them. But Georgia also has Brice Ramsey, who averaged 41.9 yards on 25 punts last season, and he would be the obvious starter if he weren’t also concentrating on the quarterback competition.
“I’ve gotta beat out Brice when I get there. That’s pretty much it,” Long said. “They told me the starting spot is wide open. And that was the big thing with me: I didn’t want to go somewhere where I’d have to redshirt, sit under a starting punter. I wanted to play my freshman year.
“Kirby (Smart) told me on my official visit it’s wide open. And when you come in, do what you do.”
And if he does win the job in the preseason, does the idea of debuting in the Georgia Dome – against his home-state team – intimidate him?
“I’ve been doing this too long to be getting nervous,” he said. “I know what I’m doing. I’ve been doing it for four years. It’s the same thing, just in front of more people. I’m hoping to play in that Carolina game. That’s what’s motivating me right now. Keep kicking, and keep pushing.”
We’ll have more from Long in a later, more in-depth story as part of our Next Generation series.