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Needing Stability: GSUs kicking game turns to walk-ons for consistency
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Georgia Southern place kicker Jesse Hartley, center, watches the ball sail through the uprights on a successful field-goal attempt against West Georgia as senior Dusty Reddick blocks. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/file
    Last year whenever a Georgia Southern kicker trotted onto the field the crowd collectively held its breath.
    And, with good reason.         
    The kicking game was a big factor in the Eagles enduring an unprecedented 3-8 season. Southern kickers made only nine of 18 field goal attempts and 20 of 25 extra-point kicks.
    With six of the eight losses coming by seven or few points, every missed field goal or extra point was magnified, the 27-26 loss at Chattanooga being a good example. Eagle kickers missed two extra points and another was blocked.
    The longest made field goal was a 40-yarder at Furman which was followed by a 32 yard miss late in the game that would have forced overtime. The season-ending, 34-31 overtime loss to Central Arkansas featured another missed chip shot from 32 yards out along with a botched extra-point attempt.
    Those problems, says Jesse Hartley, are a thing of the past.
    “We’ll take care of it this year,” said Hartley, a junior who kicked a field goal and six extra points without a hitch in the 45-21 opening win over West Georgia. Last week against Coastal Carolina, he went 6-for-6 again on PATs but missed two field goals. Southern goes for its third win Saturday night at home against Chattanooga (0-2).
    Hartley, like his backup Sean Mayo, is a walk-on, and both are confident in their abilities.
    Mayo is a sophomore from Warner-Robins who kicked at Northside in high school and at Georgia Military College last year. He was a surprise find for the Eagles as he showed up for tryouts for walk-ons on Aug. 19 after classes had begun.
    “I’m just trying to get back in the groove,” said Mayo. “I did everything at Georgia Military — I kicked field goals, punted and kicked off.
    “I didn’t like Georgia Military at all so I wanted to transfer,” said Mayo, a logistics major. “Georgia Southern is in-state and a good program, so I decided to come here.
    “I was a good kicker in high school…good enough to make all-state. I don’t care who kicks, me or Jesse. He’s a good kicker.”
    While Mayo was at GMC last year Hartley was enrolled at Southern. He had to sit in the stands and watch the kickers go through their struggles.
    “I was at every practice, but had to sit in the bleachers at games because I wasn’t eligible,” said Hartley, who has the stronger leg of the two, according to kicking coach Jeff Koonz.
    Hartley handled all the kicking duties against West Georgia and CCU.
    “Sean is the most consistent of the two,” said Koonz, “but if we need a 55 yarder to win the game it’s Jesse. We’ve seen him do that. Finding Sean in tryouts was a pleasant surprise. With practice he’s gotten right in there with Jesse. It was just a gut feeling to go with Jesse.”
    Hartley began his kicking career at Florida A&M. When the school got into trouble with the NCAA and Coach Billy Joe was fired Hartley transferred to Tallahassee Community College.
    He wound up at Georgia Southern when a friend came here to play baseball.
    “I checked them out and found they had a good construction management program, which is what I’m interested in,” said Hartley.
    “I had to get my academics in order and I was able to go through spring ball which helped.
    “To be a successful kicker you have to have a short memory And, you’ve got to have confidence /cockiness I should say. Sean is a good kicker, and his being here makes me a better kicker because of the competition.”
    Hartley is a right-footed kicker while Mayo kicks from the left side.
    The Eagles also still have junior Patrick Bolen and senior Bo Galvin in reserve. Bolen was 6-for-11 on field goals last year and he has made 13 of 14 extra points in his career.