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‘Katrina Girl’ rescued by Air Force para-rescuer to follow him into military service

‘Katrina Girl’ rescued by Air Force para-rescuer to follow him into military service

‘Katrina Girl’ rescued by Air Force para-rescuer to follow him into military service
Photo Credit: U.S. Air Force Photo/Airman 1st Class Veronica Pierce
Lashay Brown, 3, hugs Air Force Staff Sgt. Mike Maroney, as she is relocated to the New Orleans International Airport on Sept. 7, 2005, after Hurricane Katrina flooded her family's home.

‘Katrina Girl’ rescued by Air Force para-rescuer to follow him into military service

When then-Air Force Staff Sgt. Mike Maroney received a tight hug and brilliant smile from a 3-year-old Hurricane Katrina survivor whom he plucked from a rooftop with her family, he expected that he would never see her again. 

Nearly 12 years after the sweltering September 2005 day that he said goodbye to the grateful child, they have forged a bond so strong that the girl, LaShay Brown, plans to follow Maroney’s footsteps into the military. 

LaShay, 14, of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, also had Maroney escort her to her JROTC ball Saturday night at Bay High School. 

“It would be nobody else that could bring me here, and it would be more special to him,” LaShay told WLOX in Biloxi

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Maroney credits that long-ago hug from LaShay with “rescuing him.” The para-rescuer, who was battling PTSD at the time, was a week into his rescue mission in New Orleans when he was lowered from a helicopter onto a roof where two parents and five children, including LaShay, had been stranded for days. 

Maroney, now a staff sergeant, recalled the rescue in 2015 for the Air Force Times, which was among dozens of publications that helped him find the little girl whose grin had stayed with him for a decade. The girl, whose name he never got, seemed fearless that day, he told the Times. 

As her mother cried on the helicopter, LaShay rubbed her back to comfort her. 

“It’s OK,” Maroney recalled her telling her mother. “We’re safe. Don’t worry.”

When the helicopter dropped off the family at the airport, which was being used as a staging area for evacuees to be moved out of the broken city, LaShay wrapped her arms around Maroney’s neck and hugged him in a moment captured by an Air Force photographer. 

That photo, which ended up on everything from military coins to Burger King place mats, represented for many the strength and resilience of Katrina survivors. It made its way into Mahoney’s heart, and it accompanied him on subsequent tours of duty to Iraq and Afghanistan, where he said it gave him hope during difficult moments. 

“If not for her hug and smile that day, my life would probably be a lot different,” Mahoney told WLOX

As the 10th anniversary of the deadly storm approached in 2015, Mahoney, who had since become a master sergeant in the Air Force Reserve, began trying to find the little girl. Thanks to a viral campaign people called #FindKatrinaGirl, he and LaShay were reunited on an episode of the television show “The Real.” 

Since then, Mahoney has become close to LaShay and her family. His encouragement led her to join the JROTC at school, so it was natural for her to ask him to escort her to the ball. 

“I’m going because I would do anything to repay the hug to LaShay and her family,” Mahoney told People last week. “They mean as much to me as my own.”

His guidance also led to LaShay’s decision to join the military after graduation. Maroney supports that decision, he told People. 

“I am proud of her no matter what she does and will support her in everything she does,” Maroney said. “I think she understands service, and I believe that she will do great things no matter what she chooses.”

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  • ATHENS – It’s Friday and it’s a beautiful day in Athens. It also means we’re a day away from Georgia-Mississippi State, which is going to be another beautiful day, both weather-wise and because these two top 25 SEC teams are going to do battle in one of the best college football matchups in the country Saturday at Sanford Stadium. And since it’s Friday, it means it’s time to clean out the ol’ notebook. A lot of this stuff is not going to do us any good after kickoff on Saturday. But it’s some interesting info for the here and now. So, here now: Herschel Walker keeps tabs on Dogs In all the haste to get out of South Bend, Ind., a couple of weeks ago and get back to Georgia ahead of Hurricane Irma, I forgot to share “the rest of the story,” as Paul Harvey used to say, from my terrific telephone interview with Herschel Walker. If you recall, I talked to the greatest tailback in the history of college football on the eve of the Bulldogs’ first game against Notre Dame since Walker ran all over them in the Sugar Bowl to win the 1980 national championship. Walker told us that day that he felt Georgia should win again against the Fighting Irish as long as the players stayed together regardless of the situation, remained confident and concentrated on playing the way they were taught. That ended up being good advice and prophetic as the Bulldogs came from behind four times beat Notre Dame 20-19. But Walker and I talked for a good 20 minutes that day and he had a lot of other things to say about a lot of other things, none of which really fit into a preview of the Notre Dame contest. So let’s revisit Walker’s insights right here. Is he surprised Georgia has won a national championship since he was a freshman tailback in 1980? “I’m not surprised. The talent is so competitive right now and you’re getting talented kids coming into programs everywhere every year. Recruiting is very, very important, so it’s surprising, but then it’s not. It’s so different now how they put people in the playoff from a selection committee. Years ago, when they were just putting it together and told them I wanted to be on the selection committee. But they never gave me a look. I’d still like to.” On Georgia tailbacks Nick Chubb and Sony Michel … “I really like those two guys. I like them a lot because they’re football players. What I mean by that is you still need running backs. If you want to win a championship you better be able to run and those two guys run the football. But they can go out and catch the football, too. And I was really happy when they decided to stay. I said as soon as that happened, ‘this is going to be a great year for us.’” Thoughts on Georgia coach Kirby Smart … “I like Coach Smart. I think he’s doing a good job. He has them playing crisp and tight. Everything’s real quick. How they practice is how they’re going to play and I like the way they practice. Going into games, they need to forget about everything and just go out there and play.” On whether he keeps up with the Bulldogs … “I do keep up with my Dogs. … I keep up with all the teams. I want to see them do well, not just in football but I want to see the University of Georgia do well. That is my alma mater and I love that university. I tell you what, I really love that university. I’m always thinking about what can I do to continue to be connected with my university, because I do love it.” On trying to get UGA to do business with his latest venture, Renaissance Man Food Services, Inc. … “It’s been a booger-bear to get it there. They have a contract management group and I’ve been trying to work with them. But they don’t recognize that Herschel Walker played at Georgia and I don’t think they really care that much.” Notre Dame good will One last thing from the Notre Dame game. I was inundated with messages and comments from UGA fans who raved about their experience in South Bend and the treatment they received from the University of Notre Dame and its people. Here’s one more example. Joseph Sisson covers sports as a correspondent for the Rome News Tribune and the Calhoun Times over in Northwest Georgia. He was able to get credentialed to cover Georgia’s game at Notre Dame on Sept. 9. However, a death in the family prevented him from making the trip. He informed Notre Dame Athletics ahead of time and told them how much he regretted not being able to make as it was a bucket-list trip for him. Much to his surprise, Leigh Torbin of the Irish’s sports communication office, mailed him his customized press pass that he never got to use as a keepsake and included a nice, hand-written note. A class institution, inside and out. Wow… @NDFootball is a complete class act, I’m more then floored st their gesture. pic.twitter.com/L73FyPBnZ1 — Joseph Sisson (@Joesisson) September 20, 2017 Where’s the tight ends? There has been a lot of talk about Georgia’s tight ends the last couple of weeks. Specifically, folks are wondering, where are they in the passing game. Sophomore Isaac Nauta, a freshman All-American with 29 catches last season, has just three so far and the tight ends as a group have only six all season. Smart addressed that head on this week when he said, “At the end of the day, you kind of get how you practice. Those guys have to practice the right way. They play physical, they block, then they usually get rewarded.” There’s also this: Georgia is having to heavily involve the tight ends in the blocking and protection packages. Between the offensive line struggling and having a freshman at quarterback in Jake Fromm, the Bulldogs are having to play it somewhat safe on protections and passing schemes. Plus, Georgia remains a run-heavy team. The Bulldogs are still running the football 69 percent of the time. Therefore, the tight ends’ primary responsibility remains providing blocking for the Bulldogs’ backs. That will be especially important Saturday against Mississippi State. Mullen’s a very good coach Put in historical perspective, it’s pretty incredible what Dan Mullen has done with Mississippi State. As unofficial UGA historian Jeff Dantzler pointed out this week, the Maroon Dogs had just two winning seasons from 1895-73, three from 1979-90 and one from 2001-09. They’ve pretty much only had the Jackie Sherrill era to hang their cowbells on and that came with some costs. Likewise, Georgia has pretty much owned Mississippi State in this series. They’ve played only 26 times, but the red-and-black Bulldogs have won 17 of those meetings, and they generally haven’t been real close. UGA’s average margin of victory in those games is 16 points. Georgia’s also won 10 of the last 11. But Mullen, a former offensive coordinator for Urban Meyer at Florida, has led his Bulldogs to six winning seasons in his eight years at the helm. And this team, currently 3-0 and ranked 17th with a 37-7 win over then No. 12 LSU, appears headed for another. In fact, UGA’s last loss to the Maroons came in Starkville in 2010 (24-12), a year in which State also beat Florida and throttled Michigan in the Gator Bowl to finish 9-4. You should also recall that Mullen’s team occupied the No. 1 spot in the college football playoff’s first rankings in 2014. They were 7-0 at the time. They finished 10-3 with a loss to Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl. So what Mullen has done in Starkville has been quite surprising and impressive. Equally as astonishing is the fact that he’s still there. The post Herschel Walker ‘not surprised’ UGA hasn’t won another title appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS------The Georgia Bulldogs will have 31 games at Foley Field in 2018, featuring Southeastern Conference series with South Carolina, Texas A&M, Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas. The 56-game college baseball season begins Feb. 16 at Foley Field with a series against Georgia Southern. Eight of Georgia’s first nine contests will be at home before a Spring Break trip to Charleston for games against College of Charleston, The Citadel and Charleston Southern. SEC play opens on the road against Alabama (March 16-18) while the Bulldogs SEC home opener will be with the Gamecocks (March 23-25). The other SEC home series will be with the Aggies (March 29-31), Wildcats (April 13-15), the Volunteers (April 27-29) and Razorbacks (May 17-19). Along with the series in Tuscaloosa, Georgia’s road trips in the conference will be at Vanderbilt (April 6-8), Ole Miss (April 20-22), Missouri (May 4-6), and Florida (May 11-13). Please note the ESPNU and SEC Network Thursday night selections have not been set, thus some SEC series may change to Thursday-Saturday. The 16th annual Spring Baseball Classic to benefit Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta will be May 8 as the Bulldogs battle their rival Georgia Tech at the Atlanta Braves home, SunTrust Park. The Bulldogs are 10-5 all-time against Tech in this game. The SEC Tournament again will feature the league’s top 12 finishers in the regular season and be played in Hoover, Ala., from May 22-27. NCAA Regional action at various campus sites will be June 1-4 with Super Regionals from June 8-11. The 2018 season culminates with the College World Series (CWS) from June 16-27 in Omaha, Neb. The Bulldogs have made six appearances in Omaha including winning the national title in 1990 and reaching the CWS Finals in 2008. Georgia will begin fall practice today, and it will end with the annual Red versus Black Fall World Series from Nov. 3-5. Georgia is in its fifth year under Ike Cousins head baseball coach Scott Stricklin. The Bulldogs fall roster features 26 returning lettermen and nine newcomers. Georgia welcomes back all nine starting position players and several key components of the pitching staff. The Bulldogs went 25-32 last year including 8-3 over their final 11 games of the regular season to qualify for the SEC Tournament. In that stretch, Georgia claimed a road series over No. 4 Kentucky and No. 30 South Carolina and a home series over No. 6 Mississippi State. The Georgia Bulldog Club operates the Georgia Baseball Fund (GBF), which will serve as the priority-seating program for Georgia Baseball. The donation deadline to guarantee a renewable season ticket for the 2018 Georgia Baseball season is Oct. 31. To learn more about the GBF, call The Georgia Bulldog Club toll-free at (877) 423-2947 or review the GBF brochure at the following link: http://thegeorgiabulldogclub.com/georgia-baseball-fund   Season ticket applications will be mailed in October, and the deadline will be Nov. 30. FOLLOW THE BULLDOGS For the latest Georgia baseball news, visit www.georgiadogs.com and follow the Bulldogs on Twitter (@BaseballUGA), Facebook (@GeorgiaBaseball) and Instagram (@baseballuga). --get 2018 schedule--   2018 GEORGIA BASEBALL TENTATIVE SCHEDULE DAYS DATES OPPONENT/SERIES TIMES (ET) Fri.-Sun. Feb. 16-18 Ga. Southern 5/1/1 pm Wed. Feb. 21 @ Kennesaw State 5 pm Fri.-Sun. Feb. 23-25 Charlotte 5/1/1 pm Tues. Feb. 27 Wofford 5 pm Wed. Feb. 28 Ga. State 5 pm Fri.-Sun. March 2-4 @ College of Charleston 4/1/1 pm Tues. March 6 @ The Citadel 7 pm Wed. March 7 @ Charleston Southern 3 pm Fri.-Sun. March 9-11 Toledo 6/2/1 pm Tues. March 13 Kennesaw State 5 pm Fri.-Sun. March 16-18 @ *Alabama TBA Tues. March 20 @ Ga. State 6 pm Fri.-Sun. March 23-25  *South Carolina 7/2/1 pm Tues. March 27 Charleston Southern 6 pm Thurs-Sat. March 29-31 *Texas A&M 7/7/2 pm Tues. April 3 Ga. Tech 7 pm Fri.-Sun. April 6-8 @ *Vanderbilt TBA Tues. April 10 @ Clemson 7 pm Fri.-Sun. April 13-15 *Kentucky 7/2/1 pm Tues. April 17 Clemson 7 pm Fri.-Sun. April 20-22 @ *Ole Miss 7:30/2:30/2:30 pm Tues. April 24 @ Ga. Tech 7 pm Fri.-Sun. April 27-29 *Tennessee 7/2/1 pm Fri.-Sun. May 4-6 @ *Missouri 7:30/3/2 pm Tues. May 8 vs. %Ga. Tech 7 pm Fri.-Sun. May 11-13 @ *Florida 6:30/6:30/1 pm Tues. May 15 Presbyterian 6 pm Thurs.-Sat. May 17-19 *Arkansas 7/7/2 pm Tues.-Sun. May 22-27 ^SEC Tournament TBA   Fri.-Mon. June 1-4 +NCAA Regionals TBA   Fri.-Mon. June 8-11 +NCAA Super Regionals TBA   Sat.-Wed. June 16-27 $College World Series TBA          Home games in Bold; *SEC game; %SunTrust Park, Atlanta, Ga.; ^Hoover Metropolitan Stadium, Hoover, Ala.; +Campus Sites, TBA; $TD Ameritrade Park, Omaha, Neb.; Note: All times and dates subject to change
  • ATHENS — So many players in Brian Herrien’s position took the other route. They didn’t hold out for their dream school. They didn’t put faith in their ability to reach seemingly unattainable grades and test scores. They let the dream die. Herrien could have done that. He could have gone the junior college route and tried to get into Georgia in a couple years. But he had his heart set on Georgia. “Why take the long route when I can take the short route?” Herrien said. That quote proved to be a fitting description for more than just his journey to Georgia. It was a storybook moment: The very first time Herrien touched the ball as a college football player he scored a touchdown. And it wasn’t in garbage time of a guarantee game, either. It was last season’s opener against North Carolina in the Georgia Dome. “I remember everything right before the play,” Herrien said. “Coach [Kirby] Smart, when they told me to go in, he said: ‘We trust you, we love you.’ I said all right, I’m about to go in here and I’m about to run it.” Georgia was at the North Carolina 19-yard line. It was a tie game midway through the second quarter. The play call: toss sweep to the right. “It was one of my favorite plays,” Herrien said. “When they tossed it to me I looked and they started cutting the defense down, there was nothing out there except a safety coming across the top, and I knew I could beat him.” Brian Herrien finishing off a 19-yard touchdown run on the first carry of his career. (Brant Sanderlin/AJC) Herrien would go on to be Georgia’s third-leading rusher last season, with 363 yards on 63 carries. Pretty good for someone who qualified late academically and was far down the tailback rankings in the 2016 class. Georgia, a program used to getting premium 5-star recruits at tailback, unearthed a gem who was a 3-star prospect. “From the start you could tell he was a great player,” teammate Nick Chubb said, recounting his first impression of Herrien last year. “You’re right, we didn’t hear much about him. I’m proud that he’s here; he’s a great player.” It remains to be seen how active a role Herrien will play going forward. Georgia, you may have heard, has two great senior tailbacks in Chubb and Sony Michel, a very impressive freshman in D’Andre Swift, and has secured the commitment of 5-star prospect Zamir White. “We’re loaded,” Chubb said. “So many great backs. We have to compete every day. Those guys are really, really good.” But Herrien’s skill set is keeping him involved. He has 15 carries for 56 yards this season, including two carries in the Notre Dame game. He hasn’t been very active in the passing game, but Smart has talked about using Herrien’s size, speed and athleticism in the that part of the offense. Whatever Herrien’s future holds, his path to Georgia was quite remarkable. At first he didn’t have the grades at New Manchester High School, or the ACT score, to qualify academically. That caused plenty of college programs to back off. But Smart and Georgia’s staff stayed on him. “There was no giving up,” Herrien said. “I knew when they told me that I had to get straight A’s and get my ACT higher by two points, I knew I could do it,” Herrien said. “I told them when they were interviewing me then, there’s no second option. I’m going to get the job done.” Indeed, Herrien’s grades have been good since he got to UGA. Why? He had a simple answer. “College is easier to me than high school,” Herrien said. Say what? “It’s just easy,” he said. When pressed, Herrien explained. “The only thing that really changed for me was when I got into school, when I got to college, to make sure I stayed on top of my grades and never let myself get below,” Herrien said. “So I try to stay on top of everything. That’s all I do.” The post Brian Herrien: The kid who wouldn’t let go of his dream of playing at UGA appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS – Mel Tucker’s office in the Georgia football building is the same one that Todd Grantham occupied for four years. And it’s not the first time that’s happened. A decade ago Grantham was let go after three years as the defensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns. The Browns then tabbed Grantham’s young secondary coach as their new coordinator: Tucker. Plenty has changed since then, other than the Browns still being a woeful franchise, and on Saturday the two men will be key coaches in a match-up of ranked teams: Tucker is No. 11 Georgia’s defensive coordinator and Grantham coaches the defense for No. 17 Mississippi State. They have different personalities: Grantham was fiery, while Tucker is less so. But there is a connective tissue in former NFL coaches, it seems: The reporters who covered both hear the same phrases about football and reluctance to give too much away. And one Georgia player who was reared in NFL jargon laughs when he hears his defensive coordinator talk. “It’s actually crazy,” said Georgia defensive back J.R. Reed, whose father Jake Reed was an NFL receiver. “Some of the stuff my Dad says coach Tuck says, and I just laugh to myself. People are like, ‘What are you laughing about?’” DIFFERING DYNAMICS AT GEORGIA There are three current Georgia players who were around in 2013, Grantham’s last year at Georgia. Davin Bellamy, John Atkins and Aaron Davis were not available to the media this week. But senior Lorenzo Carter, who was recruited by Grantham before the coach left for Louisville, had warm memories of him. “I like coach Grantham,” Carter said. “He’s an electric guy. A lot of energy. He values pass-rushing. I’m sure they’re going to bring that.” Todd Grantham as Cleveand’s defensive coordinator in 2007. (GETTY IMAGES) Grantham is in his first year at Mississippi State, and – yes it’s very early – has his defense ranked fourth in the nation in least yards allowed. That follows a run at Louisville in which Grantham’s defenses were in the top 20 each year. Tucker, meanwhile, is in his second year at Georgia, where he replaced Jeremy Pruitt. (Who is now the defensive coordinator at Alabama, replacing Kirby Smart, now Georgia’s head coach. SEC coaching is a well-paying small world) There are big differences in the dynamics between Grantham’s four-year tenure at Georgia and Tucker now. For one, Grantham had total autonomy over the defense, brought in by offense-oriented head coach Mark Richt to replace a foundering unit. It was an up-and-down four years for Grantham, with an elite defense in 2011, but one that struggled in his final year. Tucker came to work under Smart, who remained very hands-on with the defense. That led to an easy perception that this wasn’t really Tucker’s defense. Whoever’s defense it was, Georgia finished 16 th nationally last year, fourth in the SEC – and two behind Grantham’s at Louisville. But this year the signs are that this is Tucker’s defense. After the Notre Dame game, when the defense basically won the game, Smart heaped praise on Tucker’s calls and scheme for the game. Tucker dialed up blitzes at key times and Georgia’s defense kept fast Notre dame QB Brandon Wimbush in the pocket. That same strategy figures to be in effect against Mississippi State QB Nick Fitzgerald. “This is his defense. Coach Tucker is the DC,” Reed said. “Coach Tucker brings an NFL type feel to the defense. He coached 10 years in the league.” Mel Tucker as a Cleveland Browns assistant in 2006. (GETTY IMAGES). And he’s brought some of that philosophy to Georgia, such as, according to Carter, more time watching film and lifting weights in-season in order to maintain strength. “I love coach Tucker,” Carter said. “He brings a lot of knowledge from the places he’s been in the past when he was coaching in the NFL, so he does a great job making sure that we go about things the way the pro’s do.” Grantham was the Browns’ DC from 2005-07. He was let go and went to Dallas, where he spent two years before going to Georgia. Tucker was the Browns’ defensive coordinator in 2008, after spending the previous three years as the Browns’ secondary coach. He went on to a four-year stint as Jacksonville’s defensive coordinator, which included four games as interim head coach, and he was Chicago’s DC from 2013-14. From there he went to Alabama as secondary coach, where he began working with Smart. And now here he is, starting to make a name for himself in the SEC. “Obviously he’s doing an amazing job because our defense is the glue right now,” senior tight end Jeb Blazevich said. “They’re doing everything they can, and they’re just clicking.” The post Mel Tucker escaping shadows of Kirby Smart, Todd Grantham appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS – Last Saturday before the Bulldogs played Samford at Sanford Stadium, Cameron Nizialek pulled out his laptop and queued up the Columbia University game. Nizialek was playing at the Ivy League school in New York City just a year ago and, if not for some forethought and planning, might still be. But Nizialek fancied himself a pretty good punter, good enough to perhaps earn some money at it after college. So he left Columbia as a graduate transfer, landed at Georgia and, Saturday, will enter his fourth game as the No. 11 Bulldogs’ starting punter as they open SEC play against 17th-ranked Mississippi State in a nationally-televised primetime game on ESPN. That’s not quite as big of a deal to Nizialek as it might’ve been a few weeks ago. I mean, he’s already played before two packed houses at Sanford Stadium and in a nationally-televised game at Notre Dame Stadium already. Still, it’s a long way from playing against Wagner College in 17,000-seat Robert K. Kraft Stadium. His Lions won, by the way. “It’s just totally different,” said Nizialek, laughing at the contrast after a Georgia practice this week. “There’s nobody in the stands. The pace of play is a little different. But, I mean, I love those guys. They do a really good job. But right here is where my focus is and I’m excited for the rest of the season.” Nizialek has a lot about which to be excited, and so does Georgia. He has quickly emerged as one of the best punters in the SEC and a real weapon for the Bulldogs in the all-important battle for field position. Since winning the job in UGA’s preseason camp, Nizialek is fourth in the league in net punting (44.5) and Georgia is the only SEC team whose opponents have negative return yardage (minus-4). UGA punter Cameron Nizialek has become a potent weapon. (AJ Reynolds/Special) What’s more, the Bulldogs’ opponents have attempted to return only four of Nizialek’s punts. Those have all ended badly – and usually painfully — for the returners. That’s because Nizialek’s hang times have been in the NFL range. His punts generally take 4.4 seconds or so to return to earth after leaving his foot. He has reached as high as 4.9 seconds on a couple of punts. The optimum in the punting game is to match hang time with distance, such as a 4.4 hang time on a 44-yard punt. Nizialek is doing that consistently. With speedy gunners like Mecole Hardman and Jayson Stanley covering kicks, that hasn’t left opposing returners many options besides fair catch or immediate contact upon fielding the ball. “The biggest thing is putting the ball as high as possible, really,” Nizialek said. “Limit returns is what I’ve been trying to do. That’s what I’m going to try to keep doing.” Georgia could not have asked for a better blessing than Nizialek. In case you haven’t noticed, punting has been a bit of an issue for the Bulldogs the past couple of years. Last year, after starting punter Marshall Long suffered a knee injury, backup quarterback Brice Ramsey had to take over. Not coincidentally, UGA was 13th in the SEC in net punting at 34.9 yards. So you’re looking at a 10-yard difference a year later. “He flips the field position, man,” head coach Kirby Smart said of Nizialek. “It’s just obvious. Number one, he gets it off fast; number two, he’s getting distance; number three, he is just changing the field position. He’s had a couple of punts that were bombs, but we measure punts by hang time. We look for hang and distance to match. He’s done that every time but probably twice.” That’s on 15 punts. Nizialek is averaging 44.3 yards on those, with a long of 57. He has yet to record a touchback, which is a good thing for punters. Smart would like to tell you that he found Nizialek by scouring the country from the coast-to-coast in an attempt to discover a hidden gem of a prospect to bring back to Athens. He’d like to, but that’s not how this came down. Nizialek found Georgia. “With him, it wasn’t like we knew something. He was free,” Smart said with a laugh. “He didn’t cost us anything. He’s a grad school transfer that walked on; great for him! He did an unbelievable job and he won the job. He saw an opportunity and he seized it. To be honest, I never saw him kick in a game at Columbia. He came to a game and said ‘I want to come to Georgia.’ I said, ‘great, come on!’ “There was no loss of value for us. And look what we got out of him!” Actually, this all has been in Nizialek’s plans for a while. Not UGA necessarily, but you don’t get into Columbia University without some smarts. Once it became evident to Nizialek that he not only was a good punter but exceptionally exceptional, which was right around his sophomore year, he planned to graduate from Columbia early and seek a Power 5 school that could display his football talents on a bigger stage. The Chantilly, Va., native looked at Clemson, Virginia Tech and South Carolina, among a few others. But, again, a wise and highly-educated man, Nizialek did lots of research. And his data indicated that Georgia would be an ideal spot. Georgia did not find punter Cameron Nizialek. He found the Bulldogs. (Steven Colquitt/UGA) “I did a lot of research on how successful the punters were or if they had a senior and stuff like that,” he said. “So I knew where I had a good shot of playing.” As for the decision to go to Columbia out of high school rather than walking on and trying to earn a scholarship at one of the many major programs within a couple of hours of his home in Virginia, Nizialek said football wasn’t a major priority for him at the time. The son of a pair of Duke graduates, he was fully focused on academic opportunities, and he took care of that by earning an economics degree from Columbia in 3½ years. With that valuable lambskin in his pocket, Nizialek felt he could afford to intently focus on the pigskin for a while. In the meantime, he’ll earn his master’s degree from UGA at the end of this semester. “It’s going well so far,” Nizialek said. “Coming in, I just wanted an opportunity to get a chance. That’s all you can ask for as a graduate student. But I had to make a really calculated decision. I’ve got one year and I want to play at the next level, so I had to weigh those things appropriately. “I’d say I’ve done an all right job but I’d like to do a little better. I think there’s room to improve. I’m excited about how I’ve been doing but I think I’ve been doing better in practice and I want to keep that rolling.” Georgia needs Nizialek to play especially well this weekend as the Bulldogs collide with Mississippi State in what everybody expects to be an extremely close and competitive Top 20 matchup. It’ll be the fourth consecutive night game for Georgia and promises to be the most electric atmosphere Nizialek has ever experienced. It’s not something Nizialek is necessarily used to just yet, nor is it something he wants to get used to. “Just running out of the tunnel and having 93,000 people out there is something you’ve just got to cherish because it’s really incredible,” Nizialek said with grin. “I don’t think I was ever intimidated, but I’m still going to appreciate it every time I go out there because it’s an incredible experience. It’s not something anyone ever gets to do. No one gets to do what I’ve experienced and that’s pretty awesome.” Pretty awesome for the Bulldogs as well. Be sure to tune in tonight and every Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. to the Towers’ Take Facebook live chat, brought to you by Marco’s Pizza — voted America’s favorite pizza company. Visit Marcos.com for authentic Italian pizza, and do DawgNation’s Facebook page to hear Towers’ Take. The post From Ivy League to SEC, punter Cameron Nizialek has proved a difference-maker for UGA appeared first on DawgNation.