With a kicker on scholarship for two more years after this season, Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson isn’t desperate to add another for the 2019 signing class.
However, he said Sunday, “if we can find one that we thought was really, really good, yeah, it’s a priority to sign one.”
Tech may have such a prospect in Ryan Fitzgerald of Colquitt County High. Fitzgerald is ranked the No. 15 kicker in his class by a national kicking camp. Beyond that, Fitzgerald has started his senior season with a string of attention-getting cannon shots.
Kicking off a tee, Fitzgerald hit field goals from 53 and 51 yards in his first game and 55 and 46 in his second game. This past Friday, he added a 57-yarder and a 21-yard make to improve to 6-for-7.
On his kickoffs, taken from the 40-yard line (five yards ahead of the NCAA kickoff spot), he routinely launches balls through the uprights.
An evaluation of Fitzgerald from Chris Sailer Kicking: “He hits a pure ball on field off the ground, a major strength. He has big range and kicks with great technique and confidence. Kickoffs are strong, near the top of his class.”
Fitzgerald holds scholarship offers from Georgia State, Air Force, Army and South Alabama, and attention is growing. He estimated that he had more than 100 college coaches’ numbers on his phone.
“It’s really cool,” Fitzgerald said of the interest. “It’s been a dream come true, that’s for sure.”
Tech has been recruiting him since last season. Fitzgerald said staff member Tim McGrath, who is Tech’s quality control specialist for special teams, has been in touch with him the most. Fitzgerald attended Tech’s spring game and went to a camp over the summer. His area recruiter is inside linebackers coach Andy McCollum.
“They stayed in contact with me through the summer,” Fitzgerald said. “They really started to contact me a lot after my first couple of games.”
On Aug. 27, two days after his second game, Fitzgerald tweeted out a photo of notes sent from Tech coaches and staff.
“I think it was about 18 or 19 letters, handwritten letters, from different coaches just congratulating me on a great way to start the season,” he said.
It made an impression.
“It was pretty cool,” he said. “It filled the mailbox up.”
Tech has not made an offer yet, but Fitzgerald said McGrath hinted at good news could be to come on a scheduled visit to Tech on Oct. 13 for the Duke game. Fitzgerald was also to visit Georgia this past weekend. He has also been to Florida State and also has visits scheduled for Tennessee and South Carolina. Virginia Tech and Auburn are also interested in setting up unofficial visits.
Fitzgerald, who has a goal to kick for a power-conference school on scholarship, is open-minded in his recruiting. He considers Tech a possibility.
“I’d love to play there,” said Fitzgerald, who lists Tech great Harrison Butker as one of his two favorite kickers. (The Saints’ Wil Lutz, a Georgia State graduate, is the other.)
Tech has faced issues in the kicking game last season and now this. Brenton King is 1-for-3 this season on field goals, although his two misses are from 50 and 52 yards. Tech has also missed two extra points, with King 10-for-11 and Shawn Davis 1-for-2. Davis has six touchbacks on 17 kickoffs this season, although he was 3-for-3 in Saturday’s loss to Pittsburgh. Tech was 124th last year in touchback percentage (17.5 percent) with King and Davis last season after ranking sixth (74.3 percent) in 2016, Butker’s senior season. King is on scholarship and Davis is a walk-on.
Johnson can be leery about offering kickers scholarships, he explained on his Sunday teleconference. As kickers take placekicks off the ground in college, as opposed to a tee in high school, some make the transition and others have difficulty.
“But the problem is, if you sign a kicker who can’t kick, there’s nowhere else for him to play,” Johnson said.
In this instance, too, were Fitzgerald to play for Tech on a scholarship, Johnson could have two kickers on scholarship for two seasons, as King is a sophomore.
Tech has 15 players committed for the 2019 class. The Jackets should have at least 17 open scholarships.
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