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UT punter digs in past for help

UT punter digs in past for help

Posted: Friday, August 29, 2008 2:04 pm
By: By BETH RUCKER, Associated Press Writer

KNOXVILLE (AP) — Tennessee punter Chad Cunningham has already talked to former Volunteer punter David Leaverton about how not to perform against UCLA.
Leaverton in his second game as a starter shanked two punts and allowed another to sail by him for a safety against the Bruins in 1997.
“He said no matter what, stay in there and stay strong and you’ll get through it all,” Cunningham said, recalling the conversation with Leaverton.
Cunningham, a sophomore, will make his second start Monday for the 18th-ranked Vols opener at UCLA in place of Britton Colquitt, who is serving a five-game suspension for alcohol violations.
He will also handle the kickoffs.
The Dawsonville, Ga., native punted three times for an 40.7-yard average last season, all during his lone start against Southern Mississippi as he filled in for an injured Colquitt.
That average isn’t bad — Leaverton’s career average was 40.6 yards and Colquitt’s is 42.4 — but Cunningham said he’s hoping to increase it to about 42 yards per punt.
To get there, he worked with a punting coach in Georgia in the offseason and strengthened his leg.
It’s helped: Cunningham averaged about 41.5 yards per punt during Tennessee’s three fall scrimmages.
Coach Phillip Fulmer said Cunningham’s performance could help determine whether he keeps the job after Colquitt’s eligibility is up at the end of this season. Cunningham took a redshirt in 2006 and has three years of eligibility left.
Fulmer has been pleased with his consistency during preseason camp and his improved rhythm in getting his punts off in time.
“Certainly he worked hard this summer,” Fulmer said. “You could just tell. He was trim and looked good and was in great shape.”
Cunningham has also worked with a sports psychologist in hopes of preventing any of the mental gaffes like the one that affected Leaverton at UCLA.
Tennessee went on to win that game 30-24 and later won the Southeastern Conference championship behind the arm of Peyton Manning.
By the time he was a senior, Leaverton was a semifinalist for the Ray Guy Punting Award, and he now works as field director for U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.
The sports psychologist walks Cunningham through his punting and kicking routines, coaching him to never think about the kick except for the moment just before it happens.
“Thinking about it is when you mess up,” he said. “As long as I keep my mind off of it, I’ll do great.”
So what does Cunningham do to keep his mind off of it?
“Right now I’m singing ’Mary Had a Little Lamb,”’ he said.
Meanwhile, Tennessee starting defensive back Brett Vinson and defensive tackle Donald Langley have been suspended for the season opener at UCLA next Monday.
Coach Phillip Fulmer said after Monday’s practice that academic issues led to the suspensions.
Vinson, a sophomore, started 10 games last season at left cornerback. Langley is a redshirt freshman.

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