Kevin Stemke didn't have the nation's best punting average. Nor did he have the best percentage of punts that were downed inside the 20-yard line.
But Mr. Stemke, a four-year letterman during his career at the University of Wisconsin, was among the best in several different categories. And that earned the left-footed punter the inaugural Ray Guy Award as the top punter Thursday night in a ceremony in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
The award, presented by the Greater Augusta Sports Council, was determined by a vote of more than 350 coaches, sports information directors and college football writers.
"I'm really honored," Mr. Stemke said. "We as punters are asked to do a lot, and so are the guys who get down and cover our punts."
Mr. Stemke averaged 45.11 yards per punt this year on 61 attempts, good for third best in the nation. He beat out sophomore Preston Gruening of Minnesota, who led in average with 45.22 yards per punt, and senior Nick Harris of California for the award.
The Ray Guy Award, which is in its first year, honors the Thomson native who was selected in the first round of the 1973 NFL draft by the Oakland Raiders. Mr. Guy, who was a part of three Super Bowl championships, is widely considered one of the best punters in the history of the game.
The award was intended not to reward the best average but to take into consideration other criteria, such as net average, number of punts inside the 20-yard line, percentage of punts inside the 20-yard line, average return and percentage of punts not returned.
"I think he's a fantastic kicker to meet the criteria we set for them," Mr. Guy said from Lake Buena Vista. "I wish they could all win. They do their job for the betterment of the team. They're very unselfish players. It was a tough decision, and I'm glad I wasn't on the voting (panel)."
Mr. Stemke was part of a Wisconsin team that finished this year 8-4, including a 4-4 record in the Big Ten. The Badgers landed a berth in the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, against UCLA on Dec. 29.
The Ray Guy Award was just one of many awards presented Thursday night during the ESPN College Football Awards Show from Disney's Wide World of Sports complex in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
Aiken High graduate Jamal Reynolds, a senior defensive end at Florida State, was a finalist for the Bednarik Award, given to the nation's best defensive player. Miami linebacker Dan Morgan won the award. Mr. Reynolds won the Lombardi Award, given to the nation's best lineman, on Wednesday.
Other awards given out during the program included the Maxwell Award, given to college football's outstanding player (Purdue's Drew Brees); the Davey O'Brien Award, for the best quarterback (Florida State's Chris Weinke); the Doak Walker Award, for best non-freshman running back (TCU's LaDainian Tomlinson); the Outland Trophy, for top interior lineman (Tennessee's John Henderson); the Biletnikoff Award, for the top receiver (Pittsburgh's Antonio Bryant); the Jim Thorpe Award, for the top defensive back (Wisconsin's Jamar Fletcher); and the Coach of the Year award (Oklahoma's Bob Stoops).
Mr. Guy and the Greater Augusta Sports Council worked together in creating the award for top punter. The overall experience was a success, said Tammy Stout, executive director of the sports council.
"It's really been amazing. The other committee award representatives have been so complimentary of Augusta and Ray Guy," Ms. Stout said. "They've been impressed with our accomplishments the first year out. Next year we'll see double the exposure."
The award will be presented locally at the annual Greater Augusta Sports Awards Gala on Tuesday, and the ceremony will include Mr. Stemke and the other two finalists. Al Davis, managing general partner of the Oakland Raiders, will be the featured speaker.
"It's thrilling to be down here. It's a tribute to my staff and (the sports council)," Mr. Guy said of the awards ceremony. "They've done a tremendous job to get it up and running in a short time."
Reach John Boyette at (706) 823-3337 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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