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George Georgopoulos takes reins of UMass punting job

  • UMass punter George Georgopoulos runs through football drills, Tuesday at Gladchuck Sports Complex in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/SARAH CROSBY

  • UMass punter George Georgopoulos runs through drills earlier this week in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/SARAH CROSBY



Staff Writer
Friday, August 10, 2018

AMHERST — The first glimpse many UMass fans received of George Georgopoulos came from a July 29 tweet.

On his personal Twitter account, Georgopoulos posted a video of him booming a punt 70 yards out of an end zone at McGuirk Alumni Stadium that rolled to a stop at the opposite 2-yard line. A 98-yard kick from a freshman was the exact type of first impression fans wanted to see from a special teams unit that has struggled in recent years.

“I got a good hold on that one,” Georgopoulos said. “I just really put my foot through that one. Second day of camp, so I was just fresh out the get-go.”

The clip put on display the promise that Georgopoulos brings to the UMass punting situation and why coach Mark Whipple gave the Greenville, South Carolina, native a scholarship. As a senior at J.L. Mann High School, Georgopoulos averaged 48 yards per punt, which would beat the UMass season record by almost 3 yards.

He was one of the most highly regarded punters in last year’s class, earning him preferred walk-on offers at several Power Five schools, including South Carolina.

Whipple said the Minutemen did a lot of research on Georgopoulos before deciding to offer him a scholarship.

“He’s a great kid,” Whipple said. “We watched his tape and met with him and everything else. What all his coaches and all the kicking coaches had said, and he had a lot of preferred walk-ons at Power Fives, so we thought it was a good fit. It’s an important part of what we’re doing, so I’m glad he’s here.”

The scholarship offer played a part in helping lure Georgopoulos away from the Palmetto State, he said because it showcased the commitment and sincerity from the UMass coaches. He said his comfort level around the coaching staff and the genuine effort they showed while recruiting him helped him spurn the larger offers on the table.

“They believed in me from the start, so I feel like that really helped a lot (in making my decision),” Georgopoulos said.

Now that he has been on campus, Georgopoulos has impressed the coaches with his tireless work ethic and adaptability in transitioning to the speed of the college game. Whipple said the coaches have rushed Georgopoulos hard in the first two weeks and the freshman has quickly adjusted to the quickness coming at him.

Special teams coordinator Charles Walker said Georgopoulos has embraced every challenge the coaches have put in front of him and been extremely coachable during practice.

“His willingness to work (has stood out),” Walker said. “He’s come in here and done everything we’ve asked him to do, so he’s just been a joy to be around. ... The kid never complains, so I’m really proud of him.”

Although punting does not take up much of practices, Georgopoulos has shined when the kicking periods arise. While working on pinning punts inside the 5-yard line at the end of Thursday’s practice, he executed the placements quite well and ended the drill with a perfectly placed punt that was downed at the 2-yard line.

As a freshman, Georgopoulos said he understands his poise under pressure in situations similar to the one that ended Thursday’s practice will make the difference in his success this season.

“Being a punter and a kicker, it’s all about being calm,” Georgopoulos said. “That’s what I feel like I need to do most is to just stay calm during those chaotic moments.”

Walker, too, said the pure strength Georgopoulos possesses is not as important as fans would believe. He said what makes a good punter is not how strong their leg is, but how they harness that power in the right situation.

He said the mental side of kicking is more important, especially as a true freshman, than the physical skills.

“It doesn’t really come down to (strength), though,” Walker said. “It comes down to accuracy and kicking it where we want him to. And just the mental strain that it has during the every day life of a freshman, that stuff is more than just his ability to kick a ball.”

Although Georgopoulos has not been around for any of the special teams issues that have plagued the Minutemen in the past, the reputation has preceded the program. The freshman said he is confident in his teammates and fellow specialists to change the perception of the much-maligned unit this season because UMass must replace its kicker, punter and long snapper from last season.

“I just feel like with the team that’s here and the coverage team that we have, we can do something special on special teams,” Georgopoulos said. “We were one of the worst special teams before, so I think this year we can really set the tone and have great special teams this year.”

Josh Walfish can be reached at jwalfish@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @JoshWalfishDHG. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.