The joke was on Hugh Eggersman when Ray Guy arrived in Hattiesburg, Miss.
The North Augustan shared punting duties at the University of Southern Mississippi the year before Guy came to town. When the tall, lanky Thomson boy stepped foot on campus in fall 1969, Eggersman’s days booting the football were all but over.
At one of the first fall practices, coaches pulled their prank, telling Eggersman a new player was coming in to punt and needed a few tips. So the two went to a football field, holding a punting duel.
Guy’s first punt to Eggersman sailed high, backing him up 15 yards. When Eggersman kicked the ball, Guy barely moved. The next punt by Guy? Stuff legends are made of. He launched the ball over Eggersman’s head and out of the football field, staking firm claim to the punting position.
“Ray took my candy,” Eggersman said. “He was phenomenal. You talk about people who have a perfect swing for baseball, a perfect swing for golf. When you watched him punt, it was almost effortless. When he followed through, it was like a mid-air split.”
The legend of Ray Guy didn’t stop in Thomson. It continued to grow at his new home 500 miles away from his old stomping grounds.
The trek to Southern Miss seemed an unconventional one for someone who had multiple offers to play at more prestigious programs, including the likes of Alabama and Georgia. During his recruiting visit to Alabama, Guy was told by Crimson Tide coach Bear Bryant he’d never get his uniform dirty; he would’ve solely played punter at Alabama. That didn’t sit well with Guy, who played quarterback, safety and place-kicker, along with punter, in high school.
“I just wanted to play,” Guy said. “I don’t know if I could’ve just been a punter then.”
When he visited Southern Miss one weekend, spring practice was taking place. Guy soaked it all in: the campus, the people, the football. He was hooked.
“When I stepped on the campus of Southern, there was something special about it,” he said. “It was almost like home. That was the feeling I wanted.
“There was nothing against Georgia or Alabama, the great traditions, but they were huge. Southern was small at that time. When you walk around, you meet everybody, you see everybody, you know everybody. ... I made the right choice. Everywhere I went I was very happy.”
Because freshmen weren’t allowed to play when he started at Southern Miss, Guy saw his first football action in 1970. He made up for lost time right away, blasting a 77-yard punt in his first game at Southwestern Louisiana. He also kicked three field goals in the Golden Eagles’ 16-14 win.
Later that season, Guy would help Southern Miss shock undefeated Ole Miss, a game considered one of college football’s greatest upsets.
The fourth-ranked Rebels, led by Heisman Trophy contender Archie Manning, faced a Southern Miss team they defeated by 62 points the previous season. But the Golden Eagles featured three Augusta-area players who made a huge impact that day: Eggersman, Guy and North Augusta’s Gerry Saggus.
Eggersman, a defensive end, posted eight tackles, with two sacks and an interception en route to being named the national lineman of the week. Saggus returned a punt 60 yards for a touchdown in the second half. And Guy showed how big a difference special teams could make.
He booted a 47-yard field goal just before halftime to stake Southern Miss to a 17-14 lead. If that wasn’t enough, he kept pinning Ole Miss near its own goal line, punting 10 times for a 49-yard average.
“Every time we got the ball we had 90 yards in front of us,” Manning said in a 2012 article in the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. “Ray was just amazing.”
Final score: Southern Miss 30, Ole Miss 14.
Guy’s punting ability continued to amaze and impress everyone. Saggus entered Southern Miss at the same time, playing punt returner throughout his collegiate career. In practice, he’d receive Guy’s punts, but that was the easy part. When Saggus started downfield, he’d become a target.
“I’d get my clock rung from nowhere,” Saggus said of Guy. “He would knock me into the middle of next week. I would end up running and start looking for that damn No. 44.”
GUY MADE A NAME for himself at Southern Miss, not just for kicking and punting, but for playing defense as well. He was an All-America safety who intercepted 18 passes in three seasons, including eight his senior campaign. Saggus said Guy could’ve played another position as well.
“He probably could’ve been our starting quarterback if anyone could’ve caught his passes,” he said. “He could bring the heat.”
And he did. In 31 starts as a flame-throwing, right-hander for the baseball team, Guy posted 14 complete games. He also struck out 266 batters in 220 2/3 innings. In the spring of 1972, Guy tossed a no-hitter on a Saturday morning against William Carey University. Afterward, he headed to football practice and never told anyone of his accomplishment.
“He was a humble person,” Eggersman said. “He never thought he was better than anyone else.”
AS GOOD AS he was in baseball and football, Guy thrived in other sports as well. Eggersman said Guy would lie on his bed in his dorm room and shoot a small rubber ball through a makeshift basket the size of a Dixie cup taped to his bathroom door. The practice paid off: Guy won an intramural basketball championship all four years.
Southern Miss folks still talk about Guy winning a table tennis title while there, too. If that’s not enough, he was a scratch golfer who played in a regular group of 15 players. The young men often played the school’s golf course, and you had to be good.
“If you were in our group and you weren’t about a scratch golfer,” Saggus said, “you’d get your brains beat out.”
But football was where he made his biggest mark. In his senior season in 1972, he led the nation with a 46.2-yard average, with his longest kick coming against rival Ole Miss. With the Golden Eagles backed up on their 7 and Guy standing in his own end zone, he delivered a punt that sailed past midfield, the ball bouncing all the way through the end zone. On record, it still stands as the longest Southern Miss punt, a 93-yard kick that observers say traveled about 115 yards.
“I just wanted to get the ball out of the end zone,” said Guy, who posted a 44.7 career average in college, still a record at Southern Miss. “I wanted to get it as far as I could down the field, at least to the 50-yard line.”
On Nov. 18, Guy gave Southern Miss fans another story to talk about for ages. In a blinding snowstorm at Utah State, he went out to midfield just before halftime.
Quarterback Buddy Palazzo started trotting off the field, thinking Guy would punt. Guy, holding a kicking tee, turned his holder around, telling him to hold the ball straight up.
“I’m going to give it a ride,” Guy said.
When the ball cleared the line of scrimmage, Guy lost sight of it. He couldn’t see the officials standing behind the goalposts. The kick was true, and the ball sailed over the end zone, bouncing off the fieldhouse.
“It was probably 75 yards where it landed,” Saggus said of the kick, which was good from 61 yards out, which set the NCAA record at the time.
“With Ray, if we crossed the 50, we felt like he could make a field goal. He’s just one of the most unbelievable athletes I’ve ever seen.”
WITH ALL HIS accomplishments on the baseball and football fields, Guy was inducted into the Southern Miss Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. He also became the first Golden Eagles football player to have his number retired.
At Southern Miss, he continued what he first started at Thomson High School. But the legend of Ray Guy would expand further in the NFL with Oakland.