ATHENS -- These were times last year, Marshall Morgan confesses, where he heard the comments. And not from fans hiding behind keyboards. From teammates.
“Little remarks that aren’t meant to hurt you. But it sticks,” Morgan said. “Now you look back and put it in their face, kinda.”
He smiled as he said it. Morgan has plenty to smile about these days.
Once in danger of being a bust, and then in danger of being a delinquent, Morgan has turned out to be one of Georgia’s most valuable, not to mention improved, players. In fact, the sophomore place-kicker is the team’s best bet right now to be an All-SEC pick.
Morgan received two honors Monday. He was named one of 20 national semifinalists for the Lou Groza kicking award, and he was named the SEC special teams player of the week.
This is the third time this season Morgan has been the SEC special teams player of the week. He received the award after the LSU and Tennessee games. Morgan essentially was the difference in Saturday’s 23-20 win over Florida.
He was perfect on three field goal attempts, including a 49-yarder, while Florida missed two short field goals.
“I feel like I’m starting to earn my scholarship a little bit,” Morgan said.
It’s quite a departure from last year.
Morgan arrived at Georgia as the anointed place-kicker and heir to Blair Walsh. But erratic doesn’t begin to describe Morgan’s freshman season. He missed four extra points and dinged three more off the uprights. He only made 8-of-14 field goal attempts, although two of his makes were from 50 and 52 yards.
This year is a complete turnaround. Morgan is 13-for-15 on field goals and perfect on all extra points. He leads the nation in field goals per game.
“Everything’s gotta be stable. You can’t have anything on your mind,” Morgan said. “You’ve gotta figure out all your academics, everything first, so that you can just have a clear mind when you go out to the game and just focus on the game and kick your best.
“It’s kind of like Tiger Woods. When all that happened, it’s mental.”
It’s an interesting comparison, because Morgan did have an offseason issue.
This summer he was arrested on Lake Oconee for boating under the influence. So how did Morgan put that away? He said it was by getting it behind him as quick as he could, paying the fine, taking his two-game suspension.
“That was terrible, but it got behind me pretty fast,” he said.
There was no slow start. And a big reason was knowing he was the starter, despite Patrick Beless’ perfect performance in his absence. Head coach Mark Richt declared right away that the job was still Morgan’s.
“That right there was enough; it just put it behind me,” he said.
Not that Beless’ performance wasn’t a factor too.
“Patty did a great job; he didn’t miss. So in the back of my mind, I (thought), ‘I could lose my job,’ ” Morgan said. “So I knew I had to take it serious, hunker down and no jokes on the field.”
Kevin Butler, the former Georgia and NFL kicker, is a constant source of help. Butler serves on Georgia’s broadcast team and feeds Morgan tips and advice.
“I don’t have my kicking coach here, so he’s another guy to try to rely on,” Morgan said.
Then there was Walsh.
During Morgan’s struggles last year, he spoke to Walsh, then on the way to a Pro Bowl rookie season. Walsh told Morgan not to rush his extra points, to slow down and take a deep breath. It helped, as Morgan didn’t miss an extra point after the Florida game.
Then during the offseason, Walsh was back in Athens, working toward his degree. When not in class he kicked at Georgia, and Morgan watched every chance he got.
“I’d kind of watch him from the window, analyze what he does, because he’s perfection out there,” Morgan said.
Morgan is close to perfection this season. He has made field goals of 55, 56 and 49 yards. His only two misses have come from 52 yards (against North Texas) and 39 yards (at Tennessee). And he made up for it in that Tennessee game with a 56-yarder, the longest in Neyland Stadium history.
“You’ve gotta get comfortable out there. You’ve gotta feel like your team relies on you and that they can trust you,” he said. “Now I feel like I’ve got some trust and faith from my team and the coaches.”