#5 Wofford (5-0, 3-0) at #7 GSU (4-1, 3-1)
Saturday, 6 p.m.
Radio: 103.7 FM
Four years ago, Georgia Southern was preparing to take on Wofford at Paulson Stadium in a crucial Southern Conference game.
The week before, a freshman kicker had made his debut for the Eagles and although he had a pair of field goals and two extra points, Adrian Mora was better remembered for missing a 41-yard field goal the week before in a 22-20 loss to Elon.
Little did anyone realize they were watching the debut of a player who would become one of the most accurate kickers in the history of FCS football.
Mora wound up setting an FCS record with 151 consecutive extra points, finishing 157-of-159 for his career, and making 57 of 69 field goal attempts in his four seasons.
His 328 points are the most ever for a Georgia Southern kicker, and ranks fifth on the school’s all-time scoring list.
When Mora trotted onto the field to attempt a 25-yard field goal against the Terriers no one among the 17,598 in the stands had any idea of what to expect. It’s that way with kickers, especially freshmen.
Mora drilled the kick with six seconds to play, forcing overtime. The Eagles lost the game, 38-37, when then GSU coach Chris Hatcher inexplicably went for two. With confusion on the sidelines the play never had a chance, and the Terriers escaped with a win.
From that game on, though, Mora was never doubted. He was a legend in the making.
Now, turn the clock forward and the Eagles have another freshman kicker who could be the difference when Georgia Southern and Wofford meet at 6 p.m. Saturday at Paulson.
The Terriers (5-0, 3-0) are off to their best start since moving up to Division I while the Eagles (4-1, 3-1) could put themselves in position to win a second straight Southern Conference championship with a victory.
Although Georgia Southern won 31-10 last year the five previous games have been decided by five or fewer points. That means it could come down to a kick.
Enter Alex Hanks, a freshman from Lassiter High School.
Whether he becomes another Mora is yet to be decided, but if the Eagles need a field goal or extra point to beat the Terriers it will be Hanks in the pressure cooker.
Hanks, who became the Eagles’ kicker after Ryan Nowicki missed a game winner on the final play at The Citadel, has already shown his mettle.
He earned SoCon special teams player of the week when he kicked a 32-yard field goal with 3:40 remaining to beat Elon, 26-23.
“I feel good about Saturday night,” Hanks said. “I hope it doesn’t come down to a kick, but if it does I’ll be ready.”
Hanks played football three seasons and soccer for four for the Trojans, and turned down opportunities to play soccer at South Carolina and Georgia Southern in order to play football.
“We made it to the semi-finals (Class AAAAA) last year,” Hanks said. “That turned me toward football. I enjoyed it. I had to make a decision what to do with my life, and I decided on football.”
Hanks came to Georgia Southern as a walkon, and did not join the football team until four practices into preseason when another player left the team. In preseason you can only have 90 players in camp.
“An interesting fellow, Alex Hanks,” Coach Jeff Monken said. “He came to camp late. We had a guy leave, and we needed to take a look at more kickers so we were able to bring Alex in.
“Alex wasn’t necessarily the guy. He slowly started getting better, and in the pre-game at The Citadel he was really kicking good.”
After playing the Bulldogs the Eagles had a bye week, and Hanks used the two weeks to his advantage.
“He stayed after practice every week,” Monken said. “By the time of the Elon game he was kicking as good as anyone. He earned it (the right to kick), and he earned it the hard way.”
Hanks said he has met Mora, and is familiar with his kicking style because he’s studied it.
“Adrian has been out here three or four times and talked to us,” Hanks said. “I’ve watched a lot of film on him, too. I’ve picked his brain, and learned from the tapes.”
And, if it comes down to that moment where a kick is needed he has the full confidence of his teammates.
“There’s no doubt in my mind he’ll come through if he’s put in that position,” defensive tackle Brent Russell said. “You hope it doesn’t come down to that, but he can do it. I watch him every day, and he’s worked hard and gotten better. He did it against Elon, and if he has to do it against Wofford he’ll be fine.”