DAVID BARNES / AJC file

Georgia State punter loves to see the fair catch

The happiest moment of a football game for Georgia State kicker Brandon Wright occurs when an opponent raises his arm and moves it side-to-side. That may be the universal signal for a fair catch, but it carries a deeper meaning for Wright. For him it signifies success.

“When I see their hand go up and start waving it … that’s a great feeling,” Wright said. 

More than booming one 60 yards or dropping a kick inside the 5, the instant surrender that comes with a fair catch means Wright has done his job. 

He’s been doing his job well all season. The senior leads the Sun Belt Conference in punting at 46.1 yards, which ranks No. 15 in FBS. His career average is a school-record 44 yards, and he ranks fifth among active FBS punters. He has been added to the watch list for the Ray Guy Award, handed out annually to the nation’s top punter, for the second straight season.

“He can flip the field instantly,” Georgia State coach Shawn Elliott said. “He’s got one of the strongest legs in the country that he can utilize at any moment.”

Wright has punted 15 times in 2019. Seven have gone 50-plus yards and only two have resulted in a touchback. Four times a punt has been downed inside the 20. Twice Wright has seen the opposition surrender and take a fair catch.

Not bad for a guy who didn’t play football until he got to high school. 

Wright grew up in East Point and attended the KIPP charter school. A soccer player as a kid, Wright began his football career when his new high school didn’t field a soccer team. After being named to the all-region high school team his sophomore season, Wright began to realize he might have a future in football. 

Wright opted to walk on and play at Georgia State, where current New Orleans Saints kicker Wil Lutz was finishing his career. After redshirting as a freshman, Wright took over as the starter. He punted for a 39.8-yard average as a redshirt freshman, improved that to 44.4 yards as a sophomore and 48.2 yards as a junior.

Unlike most college programs, which split the kicking duties between two or three different players, Wright does it all for the Panthers. He handles all the kicking – from kickoffs to field goals and extra points. And he’s good at all three. 

“It’s comforting to know we have a guy who is consistent in all three phrases and works and puts in the effort to be consistent in all three,” Elliott said. “It helps you in your travel plans … pack up all three phases and put it in one body.”

Wright has kicked off 22 times this season, with only seven returned. 

He has attempted eight field goals and made six. Wright missed his final two tries in overtime of the last game against Texas State, which Georgia State ended up losing. Wright was disappointed, but has the kicker’s mentality that allows him to move on and not dwell on the negative. 

“It happens,” Elliott said. “We had an opportunity to win a football game, offensively, defensive and special teams, and didn’t get it done. There wasn’t anybody pointing fingers at him. He missed kick, but his mentality is straight and where it needs to be. I don’t have to do anything for him, just let him keep being who he is.”

Wright will have a handful of family members present Saturday when Georgia State (2-2, 0-1 Sun Belt) entertains Arkansas State (3-2, 1-0) for homecoming. Georgia State has never beaten Arkansas State in five tries and lost 51-35 in 2018 in Jonesboro, Ark. 

Arkansas State runs a pass-heavy offense that features wide receivers Omar Bayless (last week’s Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Week) and Brandon Bowling. But the Red Wolves, who lost to Georgia 55-0 on Sept. 14, are without starting quarterback Logan Bonner, who had thrown for 1,052 yards and 10 touchdowns before tearing a ligament in the thumb of his throwing hand. Layne Hatcher stepped into the starting role last week against Troy and threw for 440 yards and four touchdowns. 

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