Tennessee punter Chad Cunningham has always been a little bit better when the lights are on and the cameras are rolling.
So maybe it's a good thing that when the Vols kick off the 2008 season, it will be against UCLA in the Rose Bowl on a Monday night with a national television audience.
"It feels like an honor, really, to be able to do that," Cunningham said Thursday. "I've just got to keep getting better every day and getting more consistent with everything."
If Cunningham's last start is any indication, he's something of a prime-time player.
Cunningham will start Tennessee's first five games of the season while senior Britton Colquitt serves a five-game suspension. Filling in for Colquitt last season against Southern Miss, Cunningham punted three times for a 40.7-yard average.
Not quite Colquitt numbers, but better than UT coach Phillip Fulmer had expected going in.
"I went in scared to death because I don't know if he'd had a good punt all week long," Fulmer said. "Then he had a couple really nice ones. Sometimes it seems like he kicks better in scrimmages when it's live or in a game (than at practice)."
Both seem to be coming along just fine.
Cunningham punted four times for an average of 43 yards in last Saturday's scrimmage. At various times this spring, though, he's vacillated between being been very good and very average.
"He's definitely gotten more consistent this week," Fulmer said. "Two out of the four punts Saturday, which is not good enough, were good. If we can get to three out of four or four out of four, it'd be great for us this week."
And even better by the fall.
In addition to UT's opener at UCLA, which was moved to Sept. 1 after initially being scheduled for Sept. 6, Cunningham will punt in two key SEC games: The SEC opener against Florida on Sept. 20 and the next weekend at Auburn.
Building consistency this spring, as well as cutting the time it takes him to get rid of the football and becoming better at directional kicking, will be key.
"That's one of the biggest things just because if you can't get the kick off, it's going to get blocked and that's not going to be good," Cunningham said. "The biggest thing for me is getting it off and being consistent with it."
To that end, Cunningham's father, former UT offensive lineman Rory Cunningham, has been in Knoxville for much of spring practice working with his son.
"My dad's been helping as much as he can," Cunningham said. "He's been around it for quite a while, and he's just trying to help me get better also. He's been around it for 10 years with me and my brother."