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Savannah State's Thomas would prefer not to be so busy
Savannah State punter Jacob Thomas would be happy to stay out of the Football Championship Subdivision record books.
Just a week ago, the freshman was on pace to challenge for the most punts ever in a season. Louisiana Tech’s Barry Hickingbotham holds the mark with 98 punts in 11 games (8.9 a game) in 1987.
Thomas had 52 through six games (8.7 a game) before the Edward Waters game last Saturday.
“Nine times a game? It seems a lot,” he admitted.
But he punted only twice as the offense went wild during a 42-35 victory over EWC. Hickingbotham’s record seems safe.
“I’d rather punt two times and get a win than nine times and get a record,” said Thomas, who has averaged 37.7 yards a punt.
Any amount of punting was too much for Thomas at the start of the season. He came to Savannah State as a safety, but he also did some punting in high school, taking over the punting chores as a junior at Jackson-Olin High School in Birmingham, Ala.
SSU coach Steve Davenport said the Tigers were counting on Kyle Bruce to do the punting this season. But Bruce was injured during preseason camp. At first, Thomas was reluctant to step up.
“(Thomas) didn’t want to punt, but we had a conversation with him and told him this was how he could help the team,” Davenport said. “The next day he came out booming them unbelievably. Once he learns to get a little consistency, he’ll be a very good punter. He’s got a very good leg. He’s already an asset for us.”
The Tigers called his number a lot during the first two games against Oklahoma State and Florida State. His 12 punts in the opener against the Cowboys was one short of the school record set by Kyle McCrery against South Carolina State on Sept. 20, 2003.
Thomas punted 11 times (one was blocked) against Howard on Sept. 29.
He was averaging nine punts a game through his first five games.
To put it in perspective, Thomas had kicked more times in 3½ games (by halftime of the Howard game) than Georgia Southern punted in 14 games last season.
“I was used to playing both sides of the ball in high school, (so averaging nine punts a game) really didn’t bother me,” Thomas said. “I just go out there and swing my leg.”
Thomas’ first collegiate punt came out of the Savannah State end zone and traveled 47 yards against Oklahoma State.
He followed up his first effort with an 18-yarder, then a 56-yarder — tying for fourth longest in the school record books.
“Once I got comfortable, it got better,” Thomas said. “The main thing going through my head was catch (the snap). If I catch it, I figure I can punt it.”
While his average dipped slightly, Thomas has been doing a better job with situational punting recently. During the last four games, he has had eight punts inside the 20. Opposing returners signaled fair catch six times during the same span.
“That’s my goal,” Thomas said. “I want to see (the opponents) go 80 yards instead of 50. I feel like I’m making a contribution. The defensive players are telling me to get a good kick to give them better field position and that’s what I’m doing.”
Of course, the best scenario is to not have to punt at all. But in five of their seven games, the Tigers’ offense has combined to generate just 18 points. Thomas punted 46 times in those games — ahead of record pace.
He’d have to punt 45 times in the final four games to edge Hickingbotham for the FCS record.
“Hopefully, we don’t have to,” Thomas said.
SAVANNAH STATE AT HAMPTON
Records: Savannah State (1-6, 0-4 MEAC); Hampton (1-5, 1-3 MEAC)
When: 2 p.m. Saturday
Where: Armstrong Stadium, Hampton, Va.
TV/radio: No TV/WHCJ 90.3 FM
By Donald Heath, Savannah Morning News