Mansour getting a kick out of Kentucky

Greg Nord, Kentucky's special teams coach, declared one day in summer camp that it was time to test the range of his field goal kickers.

“Where should I spot the ball,” Nord asked each kicker.

They all pointed to a spot at a modest distance, except for Joe Mansour. When Nord got to ask Mansour, the freshman from LaGrange said, “Wherever you want. I’ll make it.”

“You got to like that,” Nord said. “He’s got some savvy, some confidence. Whether he can do it in a game in front of 90,000, we’ll see.”

The distance that day eventually got back to 55 yards.

“Yeah, I made it,” Mansour said. “The other day I won a scrimmage with a 50-yarder. That was with the whole team and it meant a lot more than that 55-yarder with just the coach.”

Just spot the ball, Mansour seems to say. He is not afraid to thump it from any distance. He remembers spotting a ball the first day of practice for a 45-yarder and one of the quarterbacks, Morgan Newton, started ribbing him.

“You don’t have a strong enough leg,” Newton said.

“Strong enough leg? Watch,” said Mansour. “I moved the ball back to the 65-yard mark. They had been running patterns with receivers and they stopped practice and they all gathered around.”

“You make this you should be in the NFL,” one veteran said. They were still trash talking as the ball left Mansour’s foot.

“After I made it, everybody was jumping up and down cheering, it was pretty neat,” Mansour said.

He has been impressing people with his leg strength for several years now. Mansour has the third-longest kick in Georgia High School history (59 yards in 2009) and was named All-State by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Scout.com also rated him the second-best punting prospect in the country in 2009 after he averaged 41.4 yards per kick. His kickoffs sailed into the end zone 83 percent of the time, which made him a triple threat kicker. He wasn’t just steady, he was spectacular.

Mansour made field goals of 59, 56, and 52 yards his senior season for the Grangers.

He has become the latest to take the LaGrange railroad to UK, where there are six former Grangers on the roster, including starting cornerback Randall Burden. The Kentucky head coach, Joker Phillips, and LaGrange head coach Steve Pardue are friends and they are sharing talent.

“I feel pretty comfortable up here because I know most of the guys on the team,” Mansour said in a recent phone interview.

Even with his exploits in practice, Mansour is still battling for a starting job. Sometimes it takes a veteran’s touch in SEC games.

“The coach hasn’t announced anything yet about who’s playing and doing what,” Mansour said. “Ryan (Tydlacka) has been here a couple of years. He’s a lot more toned down. He’s got the upper hand right now. I’m just going out there to practice and leaving it all out there.”

Nord said it is a matter of Mansour getting his timing down for the college game. Sometimes, the coach said, Mansour will over-kick when he doesn’t have to. There is also a kicker's cardinal sins of pulling your eye off the ball, dropping your shoulder, raising your shoulder or experimenting too much with the plant foot.

“Once you are out of your normal swing and stroke, there are a lot of things that can go wrong,” Nord said.

The SEC, of course, can knock a kicker off his game all by itself.

“I’ve been asking myself every time I step on the practice field, what it’s going to be like kicking in front of 90,000 the first time,” Mansour said. “It’s going to be a little nerve-wracking, but hopefully I’ll get through it.”