JU punter Kody Thomas sure didn’t look like a rookie freshman in the team’s opener at Georgia Southern last week. In fact, he was one of the MVP’s of the game.
Thomas, from Tampa, Fla., showed a variety of punts from straight on to rugby style and wound up with a 38.6 net average on a day he said wasn’t his best.
Given the conditions, things could have been a heck of a lot worse.
More than 20,000 Eagles’ fans watched Thomas’ debut, a few more than would watch at Robinson High School.
“The most I’ve played in front of before is about 3,000 so that was crazy,’’ he said. “I was kind of scared at first, but when I get out on the field I try to focus on my drops.’’
“Some guys rise to the occasion,’’ special teams coach Kerry Webb said. “It was like he wasn’t rattled by the crowd. Some guys, the stage is too big for them but that didn’t happen to him.’’
Thomas said he noticed the crowd but the concentration on the ball drops took care of that.
“On the drops, the ball tends to go inside (tilts sideways) so I try to drop it and get the nose straight,’’ he said.
One of his kicks was a 44 yarder that he would have been happy getting credit for 42 yards on. The ball easily could have been downed by teammates at the Georgia Southern 2-yard line, but it slipped past and into the end zone for a touchback.
“I was a little upset,’’ he said. “But, at the same time you can’t get mad at your teammates, they’re giving a lot of effort to get down there.’’
His 38.6 net on the day wasn’t what he was looking for. His senior year in high school he averaged 42 yards net so anything greater than that is the goal.
Another are Thomas is getting accolades for is his holding ability on place kicks.
Place kicker Dylan Lynch is left footed which is a bit unnatural for holders.
“At first was a little nervous but started working with Dylan and started trusting him not kicking my fingers,’’ Thomas said. “Honestly, I don’t even notice any more.’’
Lynch, who transferred from Florida International, said Thomas is progressing well.
“I had issues at FIU with it,’’ Lynch said. “Since I am left footed nobody really knows how to do it but he had adapted well and does it for right footed guys as well and continues to adapt.’’
The unit had one chance at a field goal at Georgia Southern, from 50 yards, and things didn’t go as planned.
“We had a mishap in the game but the operation is the operation and we don’t put it on any one thing,’’ Lynch said.
Thomas, however, put the blame on himself.
“That was my fault,’’ he said. “I didn’t get the ball down all the way.’’
Webb was unfazed and remains patient.
“He has come in and worked hard with Dylan,’’ Webb said. “He’s more than just a punter, he’s a football player.’’
- Jim Nasella