ATHENS — As Georgia opens its season next Saturday, glance towards the 25-yard line, then to the Georgia sideline. You’ll likely find Georgia’s leading scorer of 2014 and one of his best friends.
“(I’ll be) by my kicking net like normal,” Marshall Morgan said. “I just chill over there with Collin (Barber).”
The Bulldogs’ kicking game will likely weigh heavy on the legs of the senior duo, who have been close friends, roommates and starters since their freshman year. And after three years of ups and downs, it’s evident that the two are comfortable in their veteran role — and their coaches feel the same.
“(They’re) maybe not quite where Drew (Butler) and Blair (Walsh) were when they kind of came through together,” tight ends and offensive special teams coach John Lilly said. “At those positions you’re going to go through some bad times, and it’s how you come out the back-end of those times that shows what kind of player you’re going to be, and both of them have had a good last month.”
Last season saw very different years for the two friends. While Morgan set the SEC record for consecutive field goals with 20, Barber didn’t even average 40 yards per punt. Then again, Morgan’s season also wasn’t perfect, as he missed at least one field goal in all three of Georgia’s losses.
Putting the past in the rear view, both Lilly and coach Mark Richt have expressed their confidence in both senior kickers heading into this season. But while the current state of Georgia kicking allows the coaches to breathe a little easier, Barber’s and Morgan’s graduation will open two spots.
“We’ve got to be looking towards the future too, who is going to replace them,” Richt said. “I’m more concerned about next year’s kickers than I am this year. This year I feel real comfortable with these guys.”
Freshman Rodrigo Blankenship, from Sprayberry High School in Marietta, has been taking reps and rotating in with Barber and Morgan, but has not been designated as a kicker or punter. Morgan said that he and Barber have offered veteran advice and tried to “show him the ways.”
With a great deal of expectation and trust being put on him, Morgan admitted he felt his leadership and senior status on the team earned him regard from those around him.
“I feel like I get respect, even though I weigh half the amount of some of the guys that are giving me respect,” Morgan said with laugh.
And while Morgan knows it’s a senior’s job to guide younger players, he has played a similar role for Barber, who has struggled with injury and on-the-field difficulties over the years.
“He’s been a great person to keep me accountable, to keep me up, keep me going,” Barber said. “Last year wasn’t a great year for me. To have him there (saying) ‘Come on Barber, you’ve got this,’ it’s been great. I wouldn’t have wanted any other kicking buddy to go through this with.”