March 26, 2010

Walsh not resting on past laurels

Tight end Aron White couldn't help but aggravate kicker Blair Walsh while he was conducting an interview Thursday evening at the Butts-Mehre Building.

As Walsh was talking, White came up from behind, jumped on his back and leaned over causing the kicker's knees to buckle slightly.

"Oooo…. kicker's got strong legs," the 240-pound White said, as Walsh rolled his eyes.

"Yeah, and I hear you're easy to block," Walsh responded.

Touche.

Actually, lost in all this good-natured ribbing was that White was speaking the truth.

Yes, Walsh does have a strong leg, one that's made him one of the country's best as evidenced by his top three finish in the voting for last year's Lou Groza Award.

It was quite the year for the Bulldog junior, who only missed two attempts (20-for-22) all season.

Ironically, it's the one he missed in the regular-season finale at Georgia Tech that causes Walsh to shake his head to this very day.

"You're gonna think I'm crazy but it's still not good enough. Missing that last kick probably prevented me from winning it (the Groza Award). You've got step up when it comes to that," Walsh said. "Don't get me wrong, 20-for-22 is a fantastic season for me, but it could have been 21-for-22. When I look back at it, I really should not have missed last year. I know I sound like a perfectionist but that's just how I feel. I just have to keep working, honing what I'm doing so hopefully I won't have a repeat of that next year."

No doubt Bulldog coaches and fans wouldn't complain if Walsh could equal his 2009 effort, one which saw him hit on 4-of-5 attempts from 50-plus yards, including a season-long of 53 yards against Oklahoma State.

Walsh, who has also made every extra-point attempt he has ever tried (92-for-92), is about enter some rarified air when it comes to kickers in the Bulldog record book.

If the Fort Lauderdale native can equal the 103 points he scored last year, it would vault him into third place on Georgia's all-time scoring list for kickers ahead of Rex Robinson (269), Brandon Coutu (273) and Kanon Parkman (282), right behind Kevin Butler (353) and Billy Bennett (409).

That's not all.

By the time Walsh's career is done, he should smash Bennett's career record for extra points (142). With six career field goals over 50 yards, he's also on pace to eclipse Butler's record of 11.

It is goals like this which help drive Walsh to be the best he can be. So does coming to close to winning the Groza Award.

"It makes you want to get back there. You want it that much worse. You want it that bad. Going there and meeting all the people who are involved with the Groza committee - being in the contingency - it's awesome," Walsh said. "This time, I'd like to hold the trophy at the end but it's not about that, it's what you can control. You can't control whether they vote you in or not, but it's what you do and how you feel about what you did."

Walsh learned a little history lesson while in Orlando for the ceremony as well.

While Walsh obviously knew who Lou Groza was, it wasn't until talking to his son that he really got to understand the former Ohio State star who went on to enjoy a Hall-of-Fame career with the Cleveland Browns.

"I learned that he was a pretty big hard-ass but he was very good at what he did and he was the first to do what he did," Walsh said. "He was the first to become a true kicker at the end of his career and changed the game for the rest of us."

Walsh has also learned to set his goals high.

When asked about his hopes for this fall, Walsh rattled off a litany of aspirations in rapid fashion.

"My goals are more touchbacks, more field goals and to keep my extra-point streak going," he said. "If I can do that, I'll be happy."

He's already pleased he'll no longer have to answer questions about the dreaded "directional kick."

"It's nice … nice … No, it's really nice," laughed Walsh, who last year grew weary of continually answering questions about the strategy, and whether or not his leg was strong enough to consistently boot the ball into the end zone.

With 17 touchbacks last year, Walsh appears to have answered that question.

Under new assistant Warren Belin, who will handle Georgia's kickoff coverage squad, Walsh said he's been told just to kick the football as far as he can and let the 10 other players on the kickoff team do the work.

"It's just all out. It's just a ferocious, get-the guy-down mentality," Walsh said. "Coach Belin showed us a clip of what they were doing at Vanderbilt and we saw six or seven clips where they got 'em inside the 20. It's just a different philosophy. We'll see how it works."

Walsh is shooting for 25 touchbacks this fall.

"That's a goal I have for myself, but I just want to be able to hit it high and hit good kicks," Walsh said. "I'm not talking about hitting long, line drives that go deep and nobody can catch. If I kick it deep and he (the return man) kneels down, that's great. If not, we're gonna get him."

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