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Special teams combine talent, work ethic - The Red and Black : Sports

Special teams combine talent, work ethic

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Posted: Friday, September 16, 2011 12:00 am

They are the forgotten unit.
Lost in the fireworks of high-scoring offenses and the bone-crushing tackles of tenacious defenses, the special teams unit on most football squads is given short shrift.
Consider the Georgia Bulldogs to be the exception to that rule.
Led by a dynamic kicking duo and an explosive return team, special teams in Athens take front and center.
 
The specialists
Blair Walsh and Drew Butler are linked by more than the fact they are award-winners at kicker and punter, respectively.
They are linked by Butler's dad, Kevin.
Walsh's name comes up whenever the greatest kickers in Georgia history are mentioned, a list that includes Drew's father.
Answering questions about his father is something the younger Butler never shies away from.
"I never get tired of it, because he's my dad," he said. "He's the only kicker in the College Football Hall of Fame, and I think he's the best kicker that's ever been here. Blair will have a chance to break a lot of his records this year, which is awesome, and I'm glad to help him with that."
Butler admits he wouldn't have been able to accomplish what he has without his father helping along the way.
"My dad has helped me out so much and been a tremendous asset to me," he said. "He's my best friend and I couldn't be more thankful ... He's a part of me and I'd like to think I'm a part of him. It's awesome some of the things he was able to accomplish while he was here and some of the things I've been able to accomplish, too."
Walsh dismissed any comparisons with the elder Butler or any other Georgia kicking great, more than happy just to have his name in the discussion at all.
"That's what I'm proud of, being part of that legacy more than anything," he said.
Both specialists know what is expected from them — and what they expect of themselves — for the remainder of the season.
"It's all about coming out and kicking effectively whenever I go out there," Butler said. "Whether I need to put it inside the 20 or try to get field position when I'm kicking out of our own endzone, [it's about] putting the team first. Sometimes they're going to ask me to salvage yardage, sometimes they're going to ask me to salvage hang time to keep it away from a returner, and that's what I'm here to do."
What Walsh is at Georgia to do is make kicks, and after his miss from 33 yards out last Saturday against South Carolina, he's on a mission to not leave any more points on the field.
"[I] just to want to make stuff that's asked of me to propel our team to victory and get us back in the SEC East chase, and go from there," he said. "I don't think we're done yet."
 
The return man
What goes through Brandon Boykins' head when teams kick away from him?
Does his blood start to boil?
Does it irritate him to no end?
Can he even put it into words?
"'Respectful,' honestly," he said in a surprising admission. "I feel like I'm the best returner in the nation. My teammates do as well, and I feel like I've got the best special teams blockers in the nation, so when they try not to kick it to me, it just shows that they believe that themselves. And it gives us good field position, so it's a win-win situation."
Even if it it's a sign of respect from opponents, don't expect Boykin's teammates to say they are happy with the decision.
"The very first play of the game is a huge momentum swing," linebacker Ray Drew said. "You get it to Boykin or whoever and they get a big return, they're gonna get the juices flowing and everything, so it's very frustrating. It's very vital, so it's annoying, for us when they don't kick it."
Drew's fellow freshman linebacker Amarlo Herrera felt the same way.
"That kind of fired me up, because I guess they didn't want to see him run it back anymore," he said of the Gamecocks' strategic game of keep-away.
Butler is disappointed that Boykin did not get the opportunity to show what he's got after putting forth the time and effort perfecting his returns at practice.
"It's frustrating," he said. "It's good strategy by the other team because it takes a weapon away from us. They know how dangerous [return] guys are. You like to see the guys get rewarded for their hard work, and they will in due time. It's just a matter of time before Boykin breaks one off, which will be exciting, and it will hopefully propel us to a win."
Whether he gets a chance to return the ball or not, Boykin just wants to make sure the special teams continues to play a pivotal role in deciding every game.
"I think it kept us in the game [last week], and honestly, it kept us in the game the first week," he said. "It's going to be a crucial part of all of we play. People know we have a really good special teams unit and we take pride in that. Not even the kicker or the punter or myself as a returner, but everybody as a blocker. I think that's why we're so special."
 
'I'm just glad they are as good as they are'
The most important player on the field for the Bulldogs is aware how integral their special teams unit is.
"It definitely changes the whole game, when you're able to punt a team back deep and then get a great return, and then all of a sudden you're in their field position," quarterback Aaron Murray said. "Then you pick up a first down and you're in field goal range already. Our special teams have been huge for us this season and are going to be huge for us the rest of the year."
As a freshman, Drew hasn't been around long, but he's already picked up on the same things Murray has.
"It plays a vital part in the game," he said of the special teams. "Anytime you have a kicker kicking it out of the back of the endzone, anytime you have a returner getting it on your side of the field, that's big. The shorter the field, the higher your chances are of scoring, or at least setting yourself up for some points, and that helps out tremendously."
Just how good is the unit, though?
There, Murray and Drew diverged.
"As far as them being the best in the country, I don't know," Drew said. "I don't know who does the ratings. I'm just glad they are as good as they are."
Murray was not afraid to make that statement, though.
"Between the returners — Boykin is one of the best returners in the country — and we have two of the best kickers and punters in the nation, so I think coming into every game we should have the best special teams," he said.
While acknowledging the stature Georgia's special teams unit has attained, Walsh knows they still have to go out and tee it up like any other team every Saturday.
"I think we work the hardest and I think we have the most talent," he said. That combined does make us the best, but we've still got to live up to it."

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