Originally created 12/07/00

Finalists await outcome



Nick Harris once attended Ray Guy's punting academy, and Guy was enamored with how similar Harris' kicking style was to his own.

Tonight at 9, the California star will have a chance to strengthen his link to the famed punter when the winner of the inaugural Ray Guy Award - which recognizes the nation's top collegiate punter - will be named.

Harris is one of three finalists - sophomore Preston Gruening of Minnesota and senior Kevin Stemke of Wisconsin are the others - who made the final cut in a vote of more than 350 coaches, sports information directors and college football writers.

The winner will be announced during ESPN's College Football Awards Show from Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

In its first year, the award honors Guy, a Thomson native who was selected in the first round of the 1973 NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders.

Guy, who was a part of three Super Bowl champions, is regarded among the best punters in the history of the game.

If choosing the award were based purely on average per punt, Gruening's 45.22-yard average would edge those of Stemke (45.11) and Harris (41.51).

But other factors are weighed just as heavily - number of punts inside the 20-yard line, percentage of punts inside the 20-yard line, average return and percentage of punts not returned.

Those factors were used in winnowing the original list from 40 to 10 semifinalists, then to the three who will be chosen from tonight.

Harris finished the 2000 season as the NCAA career record holder for most punts (322) and most punting yardage (13,621). The 22-year-old also sent 36 of his 73 punts inside opponents 20-yard line, 17 of which were downed inside the 10-yard line.

On Tuesday night, the Ray Guy Award winner and the other two finalists will be honored at the annual Greater Augusta Sports Awards Gala. Al Davis, managing general partner of the Oakland Raiders, will be the featured speaker.

On Sunday, younger athletes will have a chance to meet Guy from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at a "Just For Kicks" demonstration at the Sports Authority in the Augusta Exchange shopping center.

Guy also will put on a kicking camp for youth at Lions Field in North Augusta on Monday. For more information on the camp or the banquet, call the sports council at 722-8326.

Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645 or larrywill7@yahoo.com

Ray Guy finalists

Preston Gruening, Minnesota, sophomore, 46 punts, 2,080 yards, 45.22 average

Nick Harris, California, senior, 73 punts, 3,030 yards, 41.51 average

Kevin Stemke, Wisconsin, senior, 61 punts, 2,752 yards, 45.11 average