Brett Upson said he surprised even himself during the first three days of Vanderbilt’s spring football practice.
In addition to his regular role as punter, the senior also has worked as placekicker, and displayed immediate consistency from inside of 40 yards. Never mind that the last time he did any competitive kicking was in high school at Griffin, Ga.
“He’s a confident guy,” coach Bobby Johnson said. “He just goes out and kicks it.”
Of course, surprises are nothing new from Upson, who pulled off one of the biggest shockers of the 2008 college football bowl season when he was named most valuable player of the Commodores’ 16-14 victory in the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl.
He was one of only two special teams players of any sort to be named MVP in the 34 bowl games held following the 2008 season. Florida State punter Graham Gano did the same in the Champs Sports Bowl.
Gano already had a national reputation. Two weeks before the bowl game he was named the winner of the Groza Award, which is given to the top placekicker in the nation.
Upson’s honor earned him a level of notoriety he had not known. Local, regional and national publications all contacted him in the days following the contest in order to tell the story.
“(They) wanted to know how it went down and what it felt like,” Upson said. “To this day, it’s still a shock.”
Upson distinguished himself from the other players at LP Field that day when he punted nine times for an average of 42.6 yards. Three were downed inside the 20 without a touchback. Another bounced off the leg of a BC blocker and was recovered in the end zone by safety Sean Richardson for VU’s only touchdown of the contest.
“I felt like I had a good day,” he said. “Probably the worst kick I hit all night was that rugby punt that bounced off the guy. And that worked out.”
Upson said the trophy he received for the honor is on a shelf at home. While it stands out, it certainly does not stand alone.
Next to it is the trophy from when he was runner-up in the Georgia high school state golf championship as a senior. There are others from football and golf, as well as soccer – he set the region record for career goals in high school.
Similarly, with the graduation of kicker Bryant Hahnfeldt, VU’s all-time leading scorer, Upson is now the most recognizable member of the Commodores’ kicking unit, which otherwise lacks experience.
The only other placekickers on the roster are redshirt-freshman Ryan Fowler and senior John Laughrey, whose college experience consists of a handful of kickoffs and one extra-point.
“I just have to step up and lead our group, make sure we’re ready,” Upson said. “Bryant left me big shoes to fill, but he taught me along the way what I need to do. It’s going to be a fun season.”
It could be a busy one as well.
At the very least, it will be worth it to see what he does Saturday when Vanderbilt conducts its annual black-gold scrimmage (10 a.m., Vanderbilt Stadium). As a kicker in high school, his longest official field goal was 54 yards, but he said he converted one from 62 in his spring game.
“He’s got a good leg,” Johnson said. “We were kicking from about 32 yards (Friday), and he was making them easily.”
Upson is not ready to say the job is his, but – based on his early performance – it should not be a surprise if that’s what happens.
“If it works out that way, I’ll be ready to go,” Upson said. “Ryan Fowler’s a great kicker, but I feel like I can give him some competition and make him better. He can do the same for me, and we can build off each other.”
Either way, his value to the Commodores will increase.