ATHENS, Ga. - A little less than a year ago, Collin Barber was punting at Chattanooga's Finley Stadium as his Cartersville High Hurricanes defeated Ringgold 21-7.
Finley was mostly empty, but it was the largest venue in which Barber had performed.
"I actually had an off game," Barber said this week. "They snapped it over my head and I recovered it, and I did get off a rugby style kick that went like 50 yards. So that turned that day around for me a little."
Barber has since scrimmaged inside an empty Sanford Stadium as a University of Georgia freshman, and the 6-foot, 200-pounder is just a day away from competing with Sanford's 92,746 seats occupied. The No. 6 Bulldogs host Buffalo in Saturday's season opener.
"I'm just going to try and zone it all out," Barber said. "I love pressure, but I'm going to try and focus and pretend I'm back home in Cartersville at the stadium with me, myself and the ball. I just want to do my thing, get through it and have a great game."
For all the talk of the freshman tailback tandem of Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley potentially being unleashed against the Bulls of the Mid-American Conference, that is not the most intriguing aspect in the view of Bulldogs coach Mark Richt. When asked which area of the team has him the most curious, Richt replied, "Kickers and punters. I'll be anxious to see how that goes."
Georgia's new place-kicker is Barber's roommate and fellow freshman Marshall Morgan, a 6-3, 201-pounder from Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
The Bulldogs have not changed punters since Drew Butler replaced Brian Mimbs following the 2008 season, and they last changed kickers when Blair Walsh succeeded Brandon Coutu after the '07 season. Butler won the Ray Guy Award as the nation's top punter in '09 and has the highest career average (45.4 yards) in Georgia history, while Walsh made 40 of 45 field-goal attempts during his sophomore and junior seasons before battling inconsistency last year.
Walsh set a Southeastern Conference record with 412 career points, so it's no secret that Barber and Morgan were welcomed to college with comparisons.
"They were great kickers, and everybody talks about it," Barber said. "They tell us we have big shoes to fill, but my plan is to fill Drew's shoes and leave bigger ones behind. To me, there is no limit to what I can accomplish if I work hard. I want to fill his shoes, and they are going to be tough to fill, and then I want to outgrow them and leave bigger ones."
Said Morgan: "I just want to do my best, and if that happens to be better than they did, then great. I just want to push myself and beat my personal records and my personal goals and help the team in any way I can."
Barber averaged 45 yards a punt last year and said he had an 80-yarder during the Georgia High School Association All-Star Game in Columbus. Morgan made 25 of 28 field-goal attempts his last two seasons at American Heritage High School and said he made a 64-yard attempt before camp started.
"I don't know how ready Marshall is," Richt said. "He's a talented guy, there is no doubt about that. We wouldn't have brought him in if we didn't think that he had the talent base to do it. I think in time he is gong to do extremely well. What will he do in his first game and his first kick? I don't know.
"Of course, Collin is kind of in the same boat as a true freshman punter."
Quarterback Aaron Murray is confident the new specialists will perform well, but he hopes they are used on a limited basis.
"Hopefully we'll only use them for kickoffs," Murray said. "That's my goal. No punts at all, so hopefully we won't see too much of them."
'Russ' now 'UGA IX'
Russ, UGA VII's half-brother who has served two terms as Georgia's interim mascot, is assuming the title of UGA IX. The ceremony marking the promotion will be held before Georgia's home game Sept. 15 against Florida Atlantic.
The unexpected death of UGA VII in November 2009 thrust Russ into action for an eight-game stint that ended in October 2010, when UGA VIII was introduced. UGA VIII was unable to attend the Liberty Bowl that season and died in February 2011.