With a clear emphasis on Georgia football recruiting at DawgNation, it seems like a good time to make sure one position that never gets much attention receives some 2020 focus here on the first day of March.
That is at kicker.
It is the one position on the 2019 roster that …..
- Features an All-American candidate in Rodrigo “Hot Rod” Blankenship
- Has no clear heir apparent to take over in 2020
- Will have exactly zero scholarship players at the position in 2020
The average DawgNation reader might not realize that Kirby Smart is quite thrifty when it comes to scholarships and kickers. He stated early in his time at UGA that a scholarship offer at kicker would be reserved for someone who has true impact ability.
The young man who garners a UGA offer at that spot better have a thunderfoot and also swing that leg like a trusted 3-wood on special teams camp days. That will also take place with Smart and the entire group of special teams coaches and analysts watching.
If that big leg has a bad day when Smart is watching, then that will not be a good sign for their chances. It is an early test of dealing with pressure at a pressure-packed position.
Smart has only offered four kickers during his four recruiting cycles at Georgia. There were two of those in 2016, one in 2019 (an Alabama signee) and a recent 2020 offer. That young man recently chose Stanford over Georgia.
It should also be noted that the Bulldogs do have a couple of preferred walk-on options at kicker in the program. Former Greater Atlanta Christian standout Brooks Buce would be the most notable of those.
He was part of the 2017 class, received several laurels as a punting prospect and was listed on the 2018 roster at kicker. Buce also saw some reps kicking off late in decided games last season.
Georgia football: Who are the 2020 options at kicker?
With that in mind, here are a few guys to keep in mind for 2020.
If an offer actually goes out, it would be very interesting. The usual protocol is for the top targets on the board to come in during the summer. Those prospects will kick with all eyes on them.
A superior performance might garner the offer. Or it might invoke some serious long-term recruiting for an in-state prospect to come in with superior academics. That future Bulldog could start out as a preferred walk-on, benefit from the HOPE scholarship and eventually go on scholarship once they earn the job.
That doesn’t sound all that cool. Especially compared to other positions. We get it. Especially given that points are usually on the line at least half the time when a kicker steps on the field.
But kickers are different, though. In a lot of ways. The nation’s elite for 2020 do have a few scattered offers, but those are not from the heavyweight programs.
Colquitt County’s Ryan Fitzgerald was one of the best in the Southeast for the 2019 class, but the Bulldogs wanted him to take the Blankenship path through Athens. FSU eventually offered him a full scholarship and that was that.
2020 Kicker Option: James Williams of Athens Academy (Athens, Ga.)
Let’s begin in Georgia. That hometown seems like a natural fit, right?
I’m told that he has always wanted to attend the University of Georgia. Maybe that has softened a bit with the reality of the recruiting process. It is a business. It still would, of course, be a natural fit.
The preferred walk-on and the HOPE scholarship route Blankenship took could also be a potential path here.
Kohl’s Kicking pegs him as the nation’s No. 2 punter and the No. 11 kicker for 2020. He just picked up his first offer from Air Force. That is a reflection of several traits, including a solid academic transcript and a character component to go along with a big leg.
Another great time at Chris sailer kicking, won punt charting portion of camp! @chrissailerkicking pic.twitter.com/DLNuYyGgwW
— James Williams (@jameswill2020) January 31, 2019
While he does seem to have more accolades at punter, he did boot a 57-yard field goal for Athens Academy last fall. Williams even received a national honor for it.
With a 57-yard field goal, Class of 2020 kicker James Williams has been voted @KohlsKicking National Player of the Week.
— Kohl's Kicking Camps (@KohlsKicking) October 5, 2018
Rusty Mansell of 247Sports also captured that big boot on video for his Twitter following.
— Rusty Mansell (@Mansell247) September 29, 2018
At kicker, field goals are seen as a strength. Williams, like most young prep kickers, needs to become even more adept on his kickoffs.
Chris Sailer Kicking offered up the following review for Mr. Williams.
“James is a phenomenal high school kicking and punting prospect. He is big, tall, strong and athletic. Field goals are strong and consistent off the ground. He has 60+ yard range and kicks with great confidence. Kickoffs are excellent, near the very top of his class. He drives the ball deep into the end zone with big hang time. Also a great punter. He shows the ability to dominate in this area. He punts for a nice combination of distance and hang time. He is a great competitor who thrives under pressure.”
“James is showing steady improvement in all areas of his game each time we see him. I really like his upside. A fine young man that is always a pleasure to work with. I look forward to seeing what the future holds for James. He proves time and time again that he is a top national combo prospect. Look for James have a big 2019 offseason with Chris Sailer Kicking and pick up D1 offers. Outstanding prospect. OFFER NOW!!!”
2020 Kicker Option: Brock Travelstead of North Paulding High (Dallas, Ga.)
The initial publication of this list left off another big leg and a highly-decorated target from the state of Georgia. Special teams coach Scott Fountain has been out a couple of times to see him.
Travelstead was named by MaxPreps.com as a 2018 Junior All-American. He made the second team at kicker for his consistency.
That was after converting 18 of his 19 field goal tries and delivering a touchback on 60 of his 67 kickoffs.
The offer list here includes: Air Force, Chattanooga, Miami (Ohio) and South Alabama.
His review on Chris Sailer Kicking:
“Brock is a phenomenal kicking and punting prospect. The longtime Chris Sailer Kicking student kicks with excellent technique and consistency. He is confident and does very well under pressure. Field goals are strong off the ground. He hits a pure ball and has 55-plus yard range.”
“His kickoffs are outstanding. He drives the ball deep on kickoffs with big hang time. Also a developing punter. He shows he can hit a nice ball and his consistency is improving. A fine young man with a great attitude and work ethic. One of the hardest workers out there. Look for Brock to have a big 2019 offseason and pick up multiple honors. Big time prospect. OFFER NOW!!!”
— Brock Travelstead (@KP12Travelstead) September 16, 2018
— Coach Fred (@Coach_FredM) January 16, 2019
So here’s to 2019. Only He knows where it’s going to take me. Just blessed to be along for the ride! pic.twitter.com/MpkwcDS048
— Brock Travelstead (@KP12Travelstead) January 21, 2019
Brock Travelstead (2018 Chris Sailer Kicking 1st Team All-American, 2019 TOP 12 Camp Invitee) has trained with Chris Sailer Kicking since the 6th Grade. This exemplifies “Kicking with Confidence”. #TeamSailer #TOP12 pic.twitter.com/SvfabXiYQ4
— Chris Sailer Kicking (@Chris_Sailer) February 10, 2019
— Chris Sailer Kicking (@Chris_Sailer) February 18, 2019
2020 Kicker Option: Jake Seibert of LaSalle High School (Cincinnati, OH)
Seibert, an Ohio native, visited UGA last season. Chris Sailer Kicking has rated him as the nation’s No. 1 kicker for 2020.
He currently holds an offer from just Temple. That’s the life of kickers and major college football. Especially in March of their junior years. The workouts the summer before their senior seasons are essential. That’s basically when all the schools choose their scholarship kickers for the next four seasons.
— Chris Sailer Kicking (@Chris_Sailer) January 20, 2019
Seibert goes about 6-foot-1 on the height chart and carries some weight at 190 pounds. An interesting nugget is that his mother’s Twitter bio features a family photo which was taken at Sanford Stadium.
Don’t place too much stock into that. Other than that his family took a photo she liked in front of Sanford Stadium. Perhaps the biggest extrapolation there is that the family felt strongly enough about a chance to check out UGA that a lot of his inner circle came down.
He is from Ohio so it must also be noted that the Ohio State Buckeyes will be looking for a kicker in their 2020 class.
— Game Winner Kicking (@GameWinnerKick) February 3, 2019
— Jake Seibert (@seibert_jake) November 11, 2018
Here’s the Chris Sailer review on Seibert:
“Jake is a special kicking talent. He is an amazing athlete with a big-time leg and natural ability. He hits a great ball off the ground on field goals. He has 60+ yard range and gets [an] excellent lift on his ball. His kickoffs are D1 ready right now. Jake drives the ball deep into the end zone with 4.0+ hang time.”
“He is a competitor that thrives under pressure. The sky is the limit here. Jake is a fine young man with a great attitude and work ethic. Big things ahead for this Chris Sailer Kicking Kicker. Look for Jake to dominate this 2019 off-season and pick up multiple D1 offers. Excellent prospect. OFFER NOW!!!”
Field goals are clearly another strength here. Despite the polish noted above, one scouting opinion says he could be even better on his kickoffs.
2020 Kicker Option: Jared Zirkel of Tivy High School (Kerrville, Tex.)
Zirkel just visited UGA recently. He is perhaps best known for blasting a 59-yard effort in a game last fall.
— Kicking World Kicking Camps (@KickingWorld) January 21, 2019
— Kicking World Kicking Camps (@KickingWorld) January 5, 2019
Zirkel also recently visited UGA and got the chance to snap a few photos with Blankenship.
He was credited with a 90 percent touchback rate on his kickoffs last season. Zirkel also converted three field goals over 50 yards during the 2018 season.
The young Texan even dropped 18 of his 44 punts inside the 20. His kickoffs, it was reported by Kicking World, also even averaged an impressive 4.1-second hang time.
— Kicking World Kicking Camps (@KickingWorld) February 16, 2019
— Jared Zirkel (@JaredZirkel) February 17, 2019
Brent Grablachoff, his private coach, offered a comprehensive report of what he can do.
He runs the Kicking Worlds camps and has seen thousands of kickers come through his program over the past 12 years. That said, he sees something uncommon in what Zirkel can do with a lot of yards between him and a pair of goalposts.
Grablachoff feels that Zirkel has the biggest kickoff leg among prep prospects in the country right now. He even brought up Jason Sanders of the Miami Dolphins as a point of reference during his time in college. Sanders led all FBS kickers with an 84-percent touchback percentage in 2016.
His takeaway here is that Zirkel’s leg strength as a high school junior is already comparable to what Sanders displayed that season at New Mexico.
That’s a bold statement but Grablachoff had a great deal of conviction behind those words. Sanders, who was a seventh-round selection in the 2018 NFL Draft, also started working with him early in his high school career.
KickingWorld.com lists him at 6-foot-3 in height and at 190 pounds. Kicking World goes on to note that he was kicking 55-yard field goals as a freshman in high school.