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Auburn punter Ryan Shoemaker, a redshirt freshman, will be the starting punter for the Tigers when they host Kansas State on Sept. 1.
AP photo by Mark Almond
Auburn punter Ryan Shoemaker, a redshirt freshman, will be the starting punter for the Tigers when they host Kansas State on Sept. 1.

Byrum, Shoemaker fill AU's kicking jobs

By Ross Dellenger
sports@decaturdaily.com 340-2462

AUBURN — Kicker Wes Byrum got a call. Punter Ryan Shoemaker received a text message.

But both carried the same gist: meet with special teams coach Eddie Gran in his office at this time Saturday.

All six kickers competing for one of Auburn's three special teams jobs met with Gran on Sunday to hear their fate. Only two — Byrum and Shoemaker — exited his office with a positive vibe and an anxious chill.

"I'm definitely going to be nervous for the first game," said Byrum, who was named the starting field-goal kicker and kickoff specialist, while Shoemaker won the punting job.

"I'll get through it. It's just like coming out (to practice). When I came out (to practice) the first day or two, I was really nervous," he said. "After that, you have to accept you are playing in college now."

And he hasn't been playing in college for long.

Try a month.

Byrum is one of two true freshmen scheduled to start when the Tigers kick off the 2007 season a week from Saturday against Kansas State.

Shoemaker is not far behind in the age category. The redshirt freshman has been waiting for this day since he was recruited. He knew punter Kody Bliss only had one more year before graduation. After that it would be his turn.

"This situation has been going through my mind since signing the scholarship," he said. "Coming in here, the job was mine to lose."

Or so he thought.

Although he emerged as the No. 1 punter after spring practice, coach Tommy Tuberville threw a wrench in the plan before preseason practice began, announcing that the three special teams positions were wide open. Walk-on true freshman Patrick Tatum and Byrum have battled Shoemaker for the past month.

But the Birmingham native never let the competition faze him, even when he suffered a groin injury that removed him from the battle for more than a week.

"I wasn't really worried about losing my job," he said. "I knew right when I got back out there I would be hitting the ball well."

Like Shoemaker, Byrum was the favorite entering camp. The Fort Lauderdale, Fla., native was ranked the No. 2-kicking prospect in the nation by ESPN.com and Rivals.com.

But he had to battle four players for two spots.

Walk-on redshirt freshman Ross Gornall seemed to be Byrum's biggest competition. Gornall and Byrum shared the No. 1 place-kicker spot in
the team's post-spring depth chart. And, being a true freshman, Byrum didn't play in the spring.

On Friday, Tuberville said Austin graduate Morgan Hull was impressive and could see time kicking time.

Junior Zach Kutch and walk-on Graham Sutter joined Gornall and Byrum in the mix to replace departed field-goal kicker John Vaughn.

Gornall, Tatum and Byrum competed for the kickoff spot, a position left vacant by the graduation of Matt Clark.

"They said everybody had a shot to get it. When we came in this summer they said it's going to be (decided by the) numbers," Byrum recalled. "Whoever produces the numbers at the end is going to play."

Just a few days into the competition, Tuberville said that Byrum's numbers kicking off — hang time and distance — had moved him ahead of the other players.

It was the field-goal kicking duties that remained a mystery until Sunday, a day after the announcement was scheduled. Tuberville had told reporters Friday that the special teams starters would be named Saturday.

Of course in Saturday's newspapers, it said Saturday would be the day that the starters are announced.

Byrum's parents saw it on Saturday and called.

"They were like we just read something," he said. "We all heard rumors that it was coming out the day before it actually came out. None of the coaches would say anything."

But then he got the call one day later and learned that his 87 percent mark in field goals during preseason won him that job. And his hang time and distance in kickoffs took care of the other.

"I've been working hard all summer to get it," Byrum
said. "And now they made it official.
"

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