August 19, 2007

Notebook: Starting kicker, punter named

Auburn special teams coach Eddie Gran knew going into fall camp that he needed a lot of competition to find a new field goal kicker, punter and kickoff specialist.

And through the first two-and-a-half weeks, he got a fierce battle as six players, including five freshmen, went head-to-head. Gran tracked every kick and punt, and Sunday finally named his starters.

The first-team field goal kicker and kickoff specialist is true freshman Wes Byrum while redshirt freshman Ryan Shoemaker won the punting job.

"They were all kicking the ball well," said Gran. "It was great competition. It was a numbers' thing. (Byrum) had the best numbers and the No. 2 guy had the second best, and you go from there.

"It was the same with Ryan. His average was better. His operation time was better. I'm not going to say the decision was easy, but it all presented itself with the numbers."

Both Byrum and Shoemaker learned the news right before practice. Byrum, who hit 86 percent of his field goals during two-a-days, reacted well to the news, making all five of his kicks in Sunday's practice including a 46-yarder at the end of the workout to keep the team from running sprints.

"I'm real happy to get to go out there and do it," said Byrum. "The pressure is off the other guys and on me a little bit more. I have to keep my spot now rather than fight to get it."

Shoemaker managed to win the job despite missing seven days of practice with a pulled groin.

"It feels awesome," said Shoemaker. "Coming off that injury it's been a long road. It felt like a long week. But the guys in the training room did a heck of a job getting me through countless hours of rehab every day. I went back out there and hit the ball really well. I'm looking forward to the challenge. I can't wait."

The competition is not over for either Byrum or Shoemaker. Gran named freshman walk-on Graham Sutter the backup kicker and freshman walk-on Graham Sutter the backup punter. They'll continue to compete every day in practice and be ready if called upon in a game.

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