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Georgia punter Jake Camarda averaged 50.7 yards on 11 punts when the Bulldogs won 21-14 at Auburn on Nov. 16. / Photo by Anthony Walsh

The Georgia Bulldogs can't recall when Jake Camarda flipped the switch to become one of the Southeastern Conference's most dominating punters.

They're just glad it happened.

"He's always had a powerful leg, and that's why we signed him," Georgia football coach Kirby Smart said this week in a news conference. "I can't pinpoint what the trigger point has been. I think he's just more comfortable in the moment.

"He's done a really good job of making some big punts."

Camarda, a 6-foot-2, 180-pound redshirt sophomore from the Atlanta suburb of Norcross, was fighting to keep his job in late September. He enters this week's regular-season finale at Georgia Tech averaging 47.4 yards on 46 punts, which ranks fourth nationally.

Unfortunately for Camarda, fourth in the country is only good for third in the SEC, with Kentucky's Max Duffy (48.9) and South Carolina's Joseph Charlton (48.0) currently 1-2 in the nation.

Camarda averaged 42.6 yards a punt as a freshman and had a great start to this season with a 65-yard kick in the opener at Vanderbilt. He averaged at least 48 yards in each of his first three games but then had punts of just 25 and 27 yards in the 23-17 escape of Notre Dame on Sept. 21.

"My confidence never really went down," Camarda said this week in his first news conference of the year. "I had a couple of bad punts in the Notre Dame game, but I also had a couple of good balls. The one thing I've just really tried to do is stay positive all year no matter what happens."

Following that shaky performance against the Irish and the open date that followed, Camarda maintained his starting status for the Oct. 5 game at Tennessee, where he had a 53-yard punt and an 18-yard misfire.

When asked to name the point of the season in which he erupted, Camarda said, "I'm not sure that there is," but his rise occurred while Georgia's offense was being plagued by turnovers against South Carolina and struggled to move the ball in the monsoon against Kentucky. Camarda averaged 57.7 yards on three punts in the double-overtime loss to the Gamecocks and averaged 52.8 yards on six kicks against the Wildcats.

Camarda's most memorable performance of his career was this month at Auburn, when he punted 11 times for a 50.7-yard average in Georgia's 21-14 victory. His first punt of that afternoon sailed 66 yards and was downed at the 2-yard line of the Tigers, and he also had a kick downed at the 6.

"I want to try to do whatever I can to be the best for the team," Camarda said, "whether it's putting the ball inside the 10, inside the 20 or wherever we need it."

Camarda's 11 punts at Auburn were the most by a Bulldogs punter since 1976, and he followed that performance by averaging 44.7 yards in last Saturday's 19-13 triumph over Texas A&M. Aggies counterpart Branden Mann, the reigning Ray Guy Award winner, averaged 42.6 yards.

In addition to his primary punting role, Camarda also serves as the holder for Rodrigo Blankenship, who became Georgia's all-time leading scorer last Saturday. To nobody's surprise, Camarda treasures his holding responsibility every bit as much as his 18 punts of at least 50 yards this season and his 18 punts inside the opposing 20-yard line.

"If Rodrigo wants a lean here or a lean there, I try to do whatever I can to help him," Camarda said. "It's an honor for me to be able to hold for him."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

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