ATHENS, Ga. - Brandon Coutu spent almost all of the 2004 season limited to kickoff duty for Georgia, so there was no reason for his name to be mentioned with some of the great kickers in the school's history.
Things have changed.
Three games into 2005, Coutu is leading the Southeastern Conference in scoring with 31 points, inspiring comparisons to Billy Bennett, who from 2000-03 set the conference scoring record.
In last Saturday's 44-7 win over Louisiana-Monroe, Coutu nailed a 58-yard field goal - the longest in Georgia and SEC history without a tee - and suddenly he is being linked with Kevin Butler, the most heralded kicker in school history.
It has been a lot to take in for the sophomore from Lawrenceville.
"Butler was such a very good kicker, to even be mentioned in any kind of category with him is an honor, but I still have a lot to do to even be mentioned with anyone like Billy Bennett," Coutu said.
Andy Bailey, a scholarship player, was Georgia's starting kicker most of the 2004 season after winning a tight competition with Coutu, a walk-on.
While Coutu handled kickoffs, Bailey was 14-for-20 on field-goal attempts, and his inconsistency cost him his job late in the year.
In the final regular-season game against Georgia Tech, coach Mark Richt turned to Coutu, who made a 44-yarder in the fourth quarter of a 19-13 win and then held the job in the Outback Bowl.
Coutu then kept the job in the preseason, though the competition ended early when Bailey suffered a shoulder injury.
After being so wrapped up in the competition with Bailey, Coutu says he is trying to focus on his kicking this season without thinking about the possible job security the 58-yarder might provide.
"I try not to think about what's going on outside the game," he said. "I think that's what hurt me last season when I was just kicking off. I just try to concentrate on the next kick."
Coutu is 6-for-7 through three games for No. 7 Georgia (3-0 overall, 1-0 SEC), which visits Mississippi State Saturday night. The one miss was from only 31 yards last week and hampered his ability to enjoy the 58-yarder later in the game.
"On the one I missed I just wasn't concentrating and that humbled me a little bit," he said. "I just need to go out there and concentrate on every kick and not worry about what's going on outside the game."
Before Coutu's long field goal, the longest field goal in the SEC without a tee was a 57-yarder by Auburn's Philip Yost in 2003.
Coutu's kick was the longest in an SEC game - with or without a tee - since 1984, when Butler and Florida's Chris Perkins each kicked 60-yarders. Butler also kicked a 59-yarder against Mississippi in 1982, and Coutu's 58-yarder is tied for the third-longest in school history. Allan Leavitt kicked a 58-yarder against Vanderbilt in 1976.
Coutu's kick cleared the crossbar by at least several yards.
"Right when I hit it I knew I made it, but I didn't find out until I watched film how far I made it by," Coutu said. "I couldn't believe it. I knew I hit it as good as I've ever hit a ball. I couldn't believe it went that far."
The ball hit the granite bulldog that sits behind the east end zone.
Said Richt: "It looked like he could have had 10 more yards."
The NCAA record for the longest field goal without a tee is 65 yards by Kansas State's Martin Gramatica in 1998.
Because Coutu is still new to the starting job, Richt said the long field goal should provide an important confidence boost.
"I think he's still a relatively young kicker," Richt said. "It's good to have the confidence to know he can make that kind of kick."
Coutu talked his way into the opportunity, reminding Richt that he had made field goals from that spot in pregame warmups.
"I'm sure both of us felt like I could do it," Coutu said. "Actually going out there and really doing it gives me a little more confidence and gives him a little more confidence in me. If the situation comes again I'll be right there ready to kick another one.
"I won't ever turn down an attempt on any field goal."
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