April 3, 2003
By P.J. Duckworth
Spirits are high as the Irish close out their first week of spring practice. The off-season X’s and O’s have once again taken on the form of enthusiastic players looking to improve upon last season, but a quick glance at the spring roster is enough to let any avid Irish fan know there are still holes to be filled.
With the graduation of veteran punter Joey Hildbold, a two-time Ray Guy Award semifinalist who averaged 38.9 yards per boot during the 2002 “Return to Glory” season, the Irish are left with only two kickers on their roster – senior Nicholas Setta and junior D.J. Fitzpatrick.
Setta, who will be riding a streak of 87 straight successful PATs when the Irish begin their 2003 campaign on Sept. 6, against Washington State, has proven himself more than capable of handling the placekicking duties for the Irish but has never had to fill the added role of full-time punter. According to coach Buzz Preston, there is a good possibility this may change.
“There are very strong possibilities. First of all, we just have to get him healthy right now and once that happens we will take it from there and see how it all works out.”
Setta himself is optimistic about the opportunity.
“Since I came here as a freshman, I have really wanted to punt, and I have been challenging as a punter every year,” he says.
“In terms of practice, it is the same as field goals. If anything I might have punted more because it is lighter on the legs. The idea, talking to Coach Willingham, has been ‘You’re the punter, and it’s your job to lose.'”
There may, however, be another option for the Irish. The incoming class of 2007 boasts a wide range of talents, including incoming freshman Geoffrey Price of Colleyville Heritage High School in Hurst, Texas. Price, who is listed at 6-3, 180 pounds and made 92 tackles and two interceptions last year as a free safety, averaged 45.6 yards per punt as a junior and 39.5 during his senior campaign, with a career-long effort of 69 yards.
“We will see,” says Preston.
“Nobody has a job security – everybody has to earn it and we just take it from day to day, moment to moment and see where it falls. Price has a lot of potential. We’ll just see where it all goes.”
The Irish are also losing holder David Miller and three-year long-snapper John Crowther to graduation this spring, further challenging the kicking game, but Preston is not worried.
“We are looking at a lot of people right now. We haven’t been able to focus on it as much as we want to, but we are going to get into that process. It’s a wide open race, but we are going to find somebody to come through for us”
Despite the losses, Preston is confident that when it comes time to tee it up in September, there will be no reason for any of the 80,795 fans on hand to have any doubts about the Irish kicking game.
“There is never a reason to doubt. We have a lot of talent; it’s just a matter of refining it and getting it in the right place.”