The time was near for specialist Brooks Buce to make the big decision of where he would spend his collegiate career.
The Greater Atlanta Christian product held full scholarship offers from Army, Air Force, Navy, Mercer and Richmond, along with some Division II programs. The aspect of receiving a free college education was intriguing but there was a willingness to self-fund the next four years of schooling if he received the chance from one of his top schools of choice.
Buce grew up a lifelong Georgia fan. He had exchanged dialogue from Georgia’s coaching staff, then took a visit to campus on Wednesday. After meeting with offensive graduate assistant D.J. Looney – due to other coaches being away from campus with recruiting duties – he was told he would receive a verdict on whether he would be offered as a preferred walk-on Sunday.
"I wasn’t really expecting anything … I have the mindset to keep all of my options open," Buce said.
Approximately 24 hours later, the phone rang a few days early and Georgia head coach Kirby Smart was on the other end. Smart told Buce that he was about to fly out to visit a recruit, and that he would call back after he landed.
Thus, it built plenty of anticipation but Buce’s thoughts didn’t change vastly.
"I just thought (Smart) was calling to check in," he said.
Then the moment came.
"I want to give you the opportunity to come on the team as a preferred walk-on and get to compete against the other guys," Smart told Buce.
Buce’s wish came true, and it didn’t take too much time to make a decision. He and his family still plan to take an unofficial visit to Richmond, but Thursday night provided the perfect opportunity to announce his decision.
Through a banquet speaker, Buce announced his pledge at the Touchdown Club of Atlanta ceremony, which honored some of the state’s best performers from 2016 at each position. Now with the tough choice behind him, Buce shows excitement to arrive at Georgia in August.
"I can’t wait to be on another team and build the relationships that I know will be built," Buce said. "Georgia is my dream school, so I knew that I would most likely go there."
The addition of Buce comes as a result of William Ham, who left the football program earlier in January so he could enhance his academic focus. The Bulldogs were in search of two specialists to add some depth behind starting place-kicker Rodrigo Blankenship. Buce joins Cameron Nizialek – a graduate transfer from Columbia University – as newly-added specialists.
Buce will be able to make his case for playing time due to his high school statistics. Throughout his senior campaign, Buce landed 72 touchbacks on 85 kickoffs, which ranks as the best mark in the state of Georgia. In addition, he went 12-for-20 on field goal attempts with a long of 54 yards, and averaged 39.5 yards per punt.
Both Buce and Nizialek have experience in punting and place-kicking, and will compete with Blankenship for the place-kicking duties and with Marshall Long for the punting position – after the rising sophomore returns from a surgically-repaired fractured kneecap.
"It’ll be great that I’ll be able to compete again," Buce said. "My goal is to make other people better as well, not just myself."
The successful career Buce had at the prep level has led to this opportunity, and his soon-to-be former coaches have a message that they hope can stick with the newest committed Bulldog.
"We’re really excited for Brooks," GAC head coach Tim Hardy said. "He’s very talented with a big leg. I believe he had 10 kickoffs that went through the uprights (this season) from the high school 40-yard line. Now that he’s at a new level, I just tell him to keep working and he’ll earn what lies ahead."