Vols Eye Elite Kicker

Any punter/place kicker that pops up as a Scout.com "Hot News" item has got to be hot prospect.

After all, fewer scholarships are awarded to kickers and punters than prospects at any other position. Typically a starting D-I kicker, or punter, is more likely to have started his collegiate career as a walk-on rather than a scholarship athlete.

Four of Tennessee's last six punters dating back to 1990 were originally walk-ons who earned scholarships, while two of the last five place kickers dating back 15 years were non-scholarship players in the beginning.

It's highly unusual for a team to have more than two scholarships invested in kicking specialists. However it's quite common for a non-scholarship punter/place kicker to unseat a full-ride competitor. The Vols have had a few such busts in recent years.

These numbers tell us a couple of things: (1) It's hard to evaluate kicking specialists on the high school level. (2) Once you prove yourself as a collegiate kicker — the job is yours.

For instance: If James Wilhoit keeps the starting place-kicking job as a junior and senior, he will be the fourth straight UT kicker to have held the starting job four straight seasons, following on the heels of Alex Walls, Jeff Hall and John Becksvoort.

Will Nathan Franklin, of Wilmington, N.C. be the next name in that legacy of longevity?

Undoubtedly, he fits UT's profile for place-kickers. He's talented, hard working, intelligent and a solid citizen. In way of a bonus, he's also a good athlete with 4.65 speed to go with surprising strength. At 5-foot-11, 160 pounds he bench presses 210 pounds or some 30 percent more than his body weight. That's roughly the equivalent of a 300-pound lineman benching over 400. Additionally, Franklin squats 345 and power cleans 190, all of which is a benefit on kick coverage where the kicker can become the last defender in an instant.

The greatest attribute for a kicker is consistency and reliability, and that's what makes Franklin such a prospect of interest. He made 7-of-10 field goal attempts as a junior including a long of 47 yards. Furthermore, he put a nifty 90 percent of his kickoffs into the end zone for John T. Hoggard High School. Franklin averaged 39 yards per punt, but reportedly launches the high coverage kicks so many college special teams prefer.

An accomplished student with a 3.2 GPA and a 1680 score on the new version SAT, Franklin is fully qualified and as low a risk as you can find in a kicker. He's already been offered by North Carolina State and UTEP and is being actively recruited by Georgia, Tennessee and USC. The fact the Trojans are going coastal in their pursuit of a place kicker when there is enough acreage in California soccer fields to make a 51st state.

It's not even a sure thing Tennessee would sign a kicker this season since Wilhoit has two seasons remaining and scholarships aren't plentiful. But it would make sense to sign a place kicker and give him a gray shirt, followed by a redshirt. That would give him a year and a half on campus and in practice before he has to wear an an Orange shirt in the pressure cooker that is SEC football. It would also give UT an insurance policy in case Wilhoit, who has played through injuries his first two seasons and missed spring practice due to surgery, is put on the shelf as a senior.

Franklin has been impressive on the spring/summer camp circuit during stops at Tennessee, LSU and North Carolina State. He'll cap it off with a trip to Georgia this weekend followed by a trip to Los Angeles for the top 12 Elite Kicking Camp. Franklin is regarded as one of the country's top five kickers in the Class of 2006 and has been rated as high as No. 2 by kicking guru Chris Sailer, who said: "Nathan is an incredible talent, a sure fire D1A scholarship kicker/punter."

"Nathan has a powerful leg and tremendous potential to be a D-I kicker," Haggard head coach Scott Brasswell told Scout.com's Steve Williams. "If you look at Nathan, you see these skinny legs and you wonder how he makes the ball explode off his foot the way it does. He has really stepped up his work ethic and I think he will be the top kicker in the state and one of the best in the country."

Franklin lists his four current favorites as USC, Georgia, Tennessee and N.C. State.

"I really liked a lot about Tennessee's program," he told Scout.com's Allen Wallace. "The town and the atmosphere there are great, and the facilities there are great too. Plus, the coaches and the players there are all real nice and friendly — they were all real personable and easy to talk to. It's also a good academic school."

If the Vols decide to go for a field goal kicker, they might just split the uprights.

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