Cunningham hears Leaverton's tale

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Tennessee punter Chad Cunningham knows the story. Shoot, he heard it first hand just this week.

Former UT punter David Leaverton called the sophomore and told the tale of his horrific day in the Rose Bowl in 1997, and he didn't spare any of the gory details.

Leaverton, a fifth-round pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2001, laid out the specifics of his worst day in football: The timeout snafu that resulted in a botched snap for a safety and each of the shanks that opened the door for a fourth-quarter UCLA comeback and nearly cost third-ranked Tennessee the game.

Cunningham will start UT's first five games - beginning with Monday's opener at the Rose Bowl against UCLA (TV: ESPN, 8 p.m.) - while All-SEC punter Britton Colquitt serves a suspension, definitely knows that ghost story.

He's just not spooked.

"I actually talked to him (Leaverton) about it," said Cunningham, a sophomore. "He told me his story, and I know that's not going to happen to me so I haven't thought about that."

Since being named the starter in February, Cunningham has been thinking a lot about UCLA. Mostly, though, he's been working.

After last season ended, Cunningham began training with Marc Feuerbach, who runs Premier Kicking in Calhoun, Ga., about 65 miles west of Cunningham's hometown of Dawsonville.

The goal was to reduce the time it took Cunningham to receive the snap and get the kick away - exactly 2 seconds, UT coach Phillip Fulmer says - and make those kicks as consistent as possible while doing it.

So Cunningham, who also spent time with a psychologist to prepare mentally, met Feuerbach a few times a month with regular phone conversations in between sessions. Cunningham even took time over spring break to work with Feuerbach, a former kicker who also trains several specialists at Georgia Tech, a few smaller colleges and some high school players.

The workouts focused on mechanics, at times analyzing every aspect of Cunningham's kicking motion the way a golfer might break down his swing. For Cunningham, consistency came before the stopwatch.

"Everyone says it's about the get-off time, and it is," Feuerbach said. "There's a time that coaches want, but we've got to figure out how to get that time down and make everything else work, too. We've got to gradually build up to that."

Cunningham made strides in the spring. With an offseason of more work, results have followed on the field during preseason camp.

"Chad's not only competing for these five ballgames, but he's also competing for a job in the next three years for this team," Fulmer said. "He did a nice job last year, at times in the spring, and certainly worked hard this summer. You could just tell. He was trim, looked good, in great shape. Two weeks ago, I really challenged him about the times. He's done well with it."

He's also done well with the increased attention since the announcement that he would take over the starting role.

"I like it because it puts pressure on you," says Cunningham, who also played quarterback at Dawson County (Ga.) High School. "And I like pressure because I feel like when I have pressure, I do better. I've definitely loved talking to the media and all that because it makes me do better. I've enjoyed it."

In Cunningham's only career start, he punted three times for a 40.7-yard average in UT's second game of last season against Southern Miss. He'll also kick off for the Vols this fall, a role he filled most of last season.

This won't be his first trip to Los Angeles, either.

In 2005, Cunningham flew to L.A. with Parade All-American kicker Richard Jackson, who plays at Clemson, to attend Chris Sailer's elite kicking camp as one of the top 12 kickers and punters in the nation.

And Feuerbach, for one, isn't worried about this trip turning into anything but a success story for Cunningham.

"I think Chad's one of those game players," Feuerbach said. "Chad's the kind of guy I want to take into battle with me. He rises to pressure. He's the kind of kid that can go train and kick a few balls, but when you put pressure on him, he's 10 times better."

Drew Edwards covers University of Tennessee football. He may be reached at 865-342-6274.

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Comments » 29

vtvol#210290 writes:


gavol2572 writes:

I want to see improvement of the special teams coverage once the ball is kicked off. No Cal or UF duplicates.

volsfan24 writes:

wonder if they will put eric berry on returning kickoffs

pammyvol1000 writes:

vtvol... I wanted to be 1st for a change..
gavol: I agree with you.. talk about a turnaround in the game.
By the way gavol- where are you located?

longtimefan writes:

Once that offensive machine gets rollin, we wont need him to do anything but kick off!

gavol2572 writes:

pammyvol- about 60 miles north of the Ga-Fla line on I75

wildberry14 writes:

he says hes not spooked but he will be come game time. put the ball in gerald jones hands and we wont need to punt

junder13 writes:

Although I hope we only need him for kickoffs, I suspect this will be a defensive struggle being an away game against a solid defense & d-coordinator. Cunningham will be needed. I like his attitude. Don't let Pinkerton scare you, he was a sissy at UT anyway.

DennisVols writes:

I met this kid a couple years ago at a 4th of July fireworks here in Forsyth Co., GA. He has a good head on his shoulders and was proud to be a member of the Tennessee Vols.
He'll do the team proud and I bettin that if you see his name in the papers it'll be for his accomplishments not his driving.

CoverOrange writes:

Pammy, ladies are always first.

pammyvol1000 writes:

Turbo: that is sweet! way sweet.
gavol: way south of Atlanta.. I'm here in Lawrencevile. Gwinnett Co. What part of TN you from? Me? Maryville TN. raised that there near Wildwood Rd. foothills to the Smokies...what more can you ask for!!

Sheepscape writes:

I am glad this is getting some attention. I too, thought about Leaverton's shaky foot that day.

He came along later...still can't forget him tackling all-world Peter Warrick in the title game.

pammyvol1000 writes:

General- Yes sir! Murvil is correct. Only the TN people stuck in Ga. would know that.
Rich:- What ever happened to Cade Thompson QB- from Murvil High School? I know he went to play for Spurrier a couple years back.

imw8n4u writes:

Also played QB - hmmm - do I sense a fake punt in the game plan?

mloaks#222092 writes:

was at that game in 97; indeed an abomination. but eased by seeing jamal for the 1st time! endzone seat as McNown overthrew on 4th and goal.

ps11824 writes:

Speaking of QBs, how 'bout Eric Ainge 10 of 13 for 131 and a TD against the eagles last night?

CoverOrange writes:

Seem to remember Dustin Colquitt and even Britton Colquitt having shaky beginnings their first year. But Cunningham's first game was last year so we are past that hurdle.

pdhuff#552644 writes:

I still say 32 yards out of bounds shows great coverage.

But then, Thomas Edison invented wax paper, but no one cares today.






DennisVols writes:


givehim6 writes:

imw8n4u, I was thinking the same thing.

Ralph_Crampton writes:

I recall the Vols in 1997 in Rose Bowl against Ucla..they came within a whisper of blowing the game after 24-3 halftime lead..only a desparate lunge by Leonard Little in last seconds of game saved the Vols...Power runner Skip Hicks broke into the open headed for a sure Ucla touchdown, when Little lunged into Hicks and slapped the ball out of his hands..ball was first almost covered by a bruin which would have been fatal..but a vol coved the ball I think not too far from goal line...thus saving the win. Vols were easily in control of the game until middle of third quarter when they tired badly and Bruins came on like gangbusters and almost won. Vol tackling left something to be disired that day.

Moaninglikeheck writes:


MHS class of 91. I live in Louisiana now but go back to Mur'ville from time to time to visit family. I'm not 100% certain about any of the public pools, but I see no reason why Alcoa nor John Sevier pools wouldn't be open.

And painting the bridge...haha. That and some other pranks brings back fond memories!

On a side note, I walked through the hallowed halls of MHS a few years back during school hours to visit a favorite teacher. I was floored at how many supermodelesque young ladies were cruising the halls. Always pretty girls at MHS but...mercy! Guess thats what daddy's money gets you nowadays haha. OK, sounding dangerously close to being a dirty old man so I'll hang it up now.

pammyvol1000 writes:

Richrollin: My sister lives right there in Alcoa near the school. She loves it.
Peppervol: Going down memory lane. I loved to hang there in the 70's. Rolling Stones blasting and the high dive was a little scary. Just curious..Do you remember Porter High School? class of 71. I played basketball there forever, since 5th grade. Coach Galen Johnson and Co. I think he is in the Hall of fame now. Dated a guy from Everett High and one from Maryville and had some friends from there. My other sister lives near Maryville High in one of the historic houses. They wanted to tear her house down to build a parking lot for the kids.. :( Hey thanks.. I did not realize so many of you guys are from my hometown. I miss it! I did not start reading these until last year and my picture made this website up there with Fulmer when the Vols were coming to Atlanta last year. Tailgate lady in Atlanta.. My cowgirl hat with the "T" was a big hit..
Ok.. I feel I have bonded now..:)

thesavageorange writes:

It's official Williams is a VOL!!!

pammyvol1000 writes:

Wa-hoo!!!!!!!!!! Thanks Savage.. you made my day!!and then some. I think I'll make some tangerine margarita's to celebrate..

gavol2572 writes:

Pammy would you question my Vol fanhood if I told you that I am not from Tn and have never lived there? And I'm sorry to say that I have never attended classed at UT. Yes its true, Im a UT walmart fan. I will probably catch much flack from some other posters for this statement but it is what it is. Bring on the names- poser, uneducated, sell out.....

CrouchingBruin writes:

Interesting coincidence: Chris Sailer, who runs the elite kicking camp that Cunningham attended in 2005, is a former UCLA All-American kicker (punter & placekicker).

pammyvol1000 writes:

gavol2572: Are you kidding me? A Vol fan is what it is!! Walmart, K-Mart, Big Lots.. I don't care.. it is what bleeds from the heart! Where are you 2572? I'm right here in Lawrenceville/ actually Grayson.

gavol2572 writes:

pammyvol- I'm in Tifton and our Blue Devils just beat Roswell 32-21 wohoo!!! Just a little bit of meaningless revenge for beating us in the Dome.

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