May 17, 2011
by Kevin Butler
One of the first memories at UGA was the first game of my career, Georgia vs. Tennessee on a Saturday afternoon. Georgia was the defending National Champs beginning defense of the title and I was the starting kicker.
It was only four months earlier that I left Redan High School and enrolled at UGA for the spring. There was a lot of hard work put into winning the job and having to replace the best kicker in UGA history -- in Rex Robinson, a two time All American.
The problem was not replacing Rex in that first game; it was not letting Willie Gault of Tennessee touch the football on kickoffs. You see Willie, who would later be a teammate of mine on the Chicago Bears, had run back five kickoffs for touchdowns the year before and I knew that if he caught a kickoff there was a real good chance he was going to run past me for a TD.
So, all week long Coach Bill Hartman made it clear that he wanted me to "kick it into the stands, Kevin."
Seemed pretty simple until it was time to do it on the opening kickoff. As a player you want to look cool and perform even cooler when it's your first time in front of 82,000 crazy Bulldog fans but things are not always working together right, like breathing and walking at the same time. I have kicked thousands of balls but this was different - this was big time college football and I was in the show!
Both teams took the field and my heart was pumping faster than ever before. I felt like I could kick the ball 80-yards if asked. We lost the toss of the coin and the Bulldogs were kicking off. Now the focus went straight back to Willie Gault, the fastest person I had ever been in the same stadium with, much less on the same field, the same play... oh no, I cannot let him touch the ball.
As the whistle blew, I tried to take a deep breath and started moving slowly toward the ball with the thought of being as smooth as Fred Couples' golf swing. It worked! The first of nine kickoffs went sailing over Willie's head and by the end of the game Willie knew we were going to kick it deep cause the Bulldogs rolled to a 44-0 victory and he never ran a TD back.