Cunningham gets a kick out of spotlight

Fulmer looking for consistency from punter

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."

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Comments » 17

WorkinLikeHeck writes:

Where has bigbluemoronvol been?

GrandCanyonVol writes:

Chad, I have seen you punt the ball. You look good to me. We are behind you and look forward to this fall. You will do fine!!!!

alfrizzle097 writes:

No one is talking about the O'Ryan kid playing behind him. Kid has a nice leg...

wjackson#226202 writes:

It's nice to see that he has a great family system for support.

orangebloodgmc writes:

George Cafego was the guiding spirit of special teams at Tennessee, and I understand he was a whole 'nother creature on game day from what he was on the practice field, so maybe Cunningham will take a similar path.

cgbtn writes:

I realize Colquitt is suspended for the first five games, but does anyone know if he is at practice and punting?

Silent_Fulmer writes:

Fulmer needs make this young man understand that our best player is usually our punter.

Brama writes:

Don't sound to good if he shanks one against florida & UCLA. Could change the game.

GoVol writes:

sjt18 - you must have just woken up when you wrote your last statement.

At least with kicking off means we've just scored. And even if giving the ball to the opposing team at the 40 (while not desireable) isn't as bad as having a punt blocked. A blocked punt statistically isn't a turnover, but usually results in a the opposing team scoring....especially since it usually is a huge momentum shifter.

I'd say punting is more important than kicking off. How many times did we give up TD's on punts versus kick-offs in the past 3 years?

givehim6 writes:

All positions so all players and the job's thay do will win games if there jobs are done to the best of the players ability. From QB to punter, O-line to D-line ect. So Chad your job is just as important on prime time on nat. tv or on the practice field. So be the best punter you can be. GO VOLS!

WorkinLikeHeck writes:

Can he kick the darn ball out of bounds?

GoVol writes:

The reality is that the kicking game is hugely important. And whether it is kick-offs or punting, if we fail at either one, we'll mostly likely lose to a quality opponent.

samjrr writes:

go dad!

pdhuff#552644 writes:

orangebloodgmc 8:06 am - every time I think about Cafego reminds me of the UTAD giving him that van at a UT game halftime hoopla. And later on, we always heard he gave it back because he found it had been used for several thou miles by the women's athletic dept.

He apparently thought he was worth a new something. I agree.

coach75 writes:

Who was the stupid AD who gave him a used van? What kind of idiot would do such a thing?

TommyJack writes:

PD: Never been a better coach on the kicking game than Cafego.

knoxtenor writes:

I'm confused. If this story is about the punter, why is GoVolsXtra's headline ticker showing a photo of a place kicker? Ah, if that was the only editorial mistake the KNS would make.

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