NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Brett Upson, VU punter, worked and practiced hard all spring and summer in preparation for the fall season. His efforts are paying off, and the SEC recently recognized him as the Specialist of the Week for his performance in the Auburn game on Oct. 4.
The junior from Griffin, Ga., has averaged 39.4 yards per kick, while opponents have totaled just 3.0 yards per return. He has booted four kicks 50 yards or more, with 12 punts landing inside the 20-yard line, which leads the SEC. Upson, thus far, is producing a very good season. At one point in August, however, he might not have returned to the gridiron.
At the end of July, Upson was stricken with a stomach ailment as the Commodores' preseason training camp approached. Initially, appendicitis was the suspected culprit, so Upson was given a significant amount of dye for a CT scan. The dye, however, led to kidney failure.
The doctors weren't aware of the kidney failure and sent him home with some medicine to cure his ailment. Upson attempted to persevere through the pain, but it was too much and he returned to the hospital. He went through some more tests, was given painkillers, but the source still eluded his physicians.
So, he was sent to Emory HealthCare, where he was diagnosed with kidney failure and spent six days there getting his kidneys under control. Upson lost 15 pounds throughout this ordeal, while his teammates where preparing for their upcoming schedule.
The VU punter made it to four preseason-camp practices before the Commodores began preparing for Miami (Ohio). Upson acknowledged that he wasn't 100 percent healthy until three days before that game, and took limited repetitions in preparation for that contest.
The Georgia native, nevertheless, bounced back relatively quickly and has provided huge kicks for the Commodores in key situations.
"I was able to bounce back because of my hard work in the summer," Upson remarked.
Now healthy, Upson can focus on his main goal for the season - being named first or second-team SEC. With his recent conference recognition, he's making strides toward his mark.
"That was a great honor for me to get last week," he said, "and I hope I can continue to do that and reach my goal at the end of the season."
Upson's successes haven't gone unnoticed on the team either. Bobby Johnson, VU head coach, recognizes his punter's impact through the first five games.
"Brett has been a big part of our team's early season success," Johnson remarked. "Brett has worked extremely hard at being the best punter he can be and it definitely shows. We've been excellent in special teams all season and a lot of that has to do with Brett's success."
The Commodores have utilized numerous punting styles including a rugby punt and a line-drive pooch kick. For the line-drive pooch kick, Upson lines up on the left hash and sends a line-drive punt out of bounds, preventing a return by the opposing team. The rugby boot is basically a soccer punt, where Upson runs four yards to the right and kicks the ball on the run.
"It [the rugby kick] was hard to grasp at the beginning, but I've got it down pat," Upson commented. "I did it a lot this summer, and worked hard on it all spring, and it came around this past year. I'm more confident with it now."
The VU junior knows he has more work to do. He wants to improve his longer punts, where he tends to put more hang time than needed on the kick. As a remedy, he's attempting to get more drive on those punts. He's focusing on other areas as well.
"I've just been concentrating on my directional kicking a lot, which has paid off for us - when we're just out of field goal range, but needing to get the ball down inside the 20 or the 10 or whatever."
The Commodores reaped the benefits of Upson's hard work against Auburn. The VU punter downed four kicks inside the Tigers' 20-yard line. Johnson's team had held Auburn scoreless after the first quarter, and nurtured a 14-13 lead going into the final two minutes. Upson proceeded to boot a 55-yard kick pinning the Tigers inside the 5-yard line, which allowed the defense to shut down the Auburn offense one more time.
"We've seen one of Brett's punts pin an opponent deep in their territory time after time," Johnson noted. "He's been extremely successful in helping us gain field position in every game. I think Brett is having an All-Southeastern Conference season."
Johnson's squad will need Upson's services again today when they battle Mississippi State in Starkville, Miss., at 1:30 p.m. The No. 13 Commodores (5-0, 3-0) are looking for their second SEC road win and third against the Western Division.
Upson, like in weeks before, will find himself in an intense environment, where his team will need his services, but he's certainly ready for the challenge.
"You just have to go out there and zone out on everything else around you and focus on the ball," he said. "It's just something that comes along with experience. I've had two years under my belt, and I'm ready to take it on."