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A leg up on the competition: Georgia Tech Punter with local ties, Durant Brooks, wins Ray Guy award

It almost didn't happen.

Georgia Tech's Durant Stiles Brooks, who recently was named the nation's top punter in college football, never set out to become a great punter. It was just one of those things he did to help his high school football team when he played at Tattnall Square Academy in Macon. The Bibb County private school is among one of the best in Georgia when it comes to winning state championships in football and basketball.

"I never really thought about becoming a great punter or what kind of doors it could open for me someday when I was in high school," said the 22-year-old Brooks after being named this year's recipient of the Ray Guy Award as the top collegiate punter in the country.

The award is named after Mr. Guy, who played football, baseball and basketball at Thomson High School back in the 1960s, before going on to become a great punter at the University of Southern Mississippi. The Oakland Raiders later picked the Mr. Guy in the first-round of the NFL draft - thus making him the first punter ever in history to be drafted that high.

Today, Mr. Guy, who is considered by many to be the all-time greatest punter in NFL history, promotes punting and kicking classes with his Ray Guy Football Camp around the country, as well as working at his college alma mater - the University of Southern Mississippi. He has been nominated several times for the NFL's Hall of Fame.

Durant, whose mother, LuAnne Durant lives in nearby Warren County, was recently featured on ESPN accepting the award from Mr. Guy. Durant, who has played for the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets the last two years, also is the son of Tattnall Square Boys' Varsity Basketball Head Coach Paul Brooks. His grandmothers are Virginia Brooks of Gordon and Ruth Durant of Dublin.

Under Coach Brooks, his son was an outstanding basketball player, too. Durant still holds the record for the most three-point baskets in a season with more than 100 at Tattnall Square.

"My heart was beating at its max," said Ms. Durant, as she sat in the crowd in Orlando, Fla., while her son sat on stage - one of the top three collegiate finalists for the Ray Guy Award. "I'm so proud of his football accomplishments, but I'm most proud that he's worked hard, kept his head on straight and that he's going to earn a degree from Georgia Tech next Spring."

The owner of Persimmon Farms on Wilson Road in Warren County and a veteran optician at Family Eye Care Associates in Thomson, Ms. Durant once sold an Irish Sport Horse to Mr. Guy for his daughter, Amber.

Years later, Durant attended one of Mr. Guy's talent search camps at Georgia Tech and a talented young punter, was discovered.

Ms. Durant said she will never forget the words spoken by Mr. Guy about her son.

"'The kid has talent,"' Ms. Durant quoted Mr. Guy as having stated.

As for Durant, the moment that Mr. Guy called his name was enough to settle his nerves.

"I was just ecstatic to be there," said Durant, whose first name was born from his mother's maiden name. "I was so excited. When he announced my name as the winner of the Ray Guy Award, my nerves just went away. I was actually calm walking up there and receiving the award."

Durant was runner-up last year to the former two-time winner of the Ray Guy Award - Daniel Sepulveda, who played at Baylor University.

At Georgia Tech this season, Durant, a senior, who will be graduating next May with a degree in business management, performed well as the team's punter. Thus far, he has punted a total of 61 times for an average of 45.5 yards per punt. He has one game left to play when the Yellow Jackets play Fresno State in Boise, Idaho on Dec. 31 in the Humanitarian Bowl. In his junior year at Georgia Tech, Durant booted the ball 79 times for an average of 45.5 yards per punt.

In his first year at Georgia Tech last season, his outstanding punting performance earned him the honor of being among the nation's most elite three punters. Again, he had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Guy.

"Winning the Ray Guy Award has opened up so many doors in my life," said Durant, who aspires to play football in the National Football League. "I'm so thankful to everyone who has ever helped me to get this far as a college football player."

Mr. Guy is one of the persons he wanted to thank publicly. The other person is Chris Mohr, who also makes his home in Thomson. Mr. Mohr, a Briarwood Academy graduate, went on to become an outstanding punter at the University of Alabama and in the NFL for the Buffalo Bills, Atlanta Falcons and Washington Redskins.

"I attended some of Mr. Guy's kicking camps and Mr. Mohr helped me by coming to Grant Field with several helpful tips," said Durant. "I'll never forget what they did to help me."

Durant also received encouragement from another person with ties to McDuffie and Warren counties. That was Rodney Collins, former head football coach at Briarwood Academy and now serving in the same capacity at Stratford Academy in Macon. Durant attended Stratford Academy for several years before transferring to Tattnall Square.

Prior to transferring to Georgia Tech for his junior year, Durant played at Georgia Military College in Milledgeville. GMC Head Coach Bert Williams offered Durant a punting position after he was red-shirted his freshman year.

Durant never got many opportunities to improve on his punting during his junior and senior football seasons at Tattnall Square because the team was blessed with such talented players. In other words, they scored a lot and won most of the time.

He estimated that he punted only about 15 times each of those seasons. His average was in the mid 30 range.

"I never set out to be the greatest punter, because I played so many other positions during high school," said Durant, whose punts had a natural spiral to them. One of the longest punts of his career came against North Carolina this season - a 77-yarder. He is a two-time All-Atlantic Coast Conference Player.

Through the years, he's obviously taken punting the ball a lot more serious - now understanding that it could land him a job with an NFL team next year.

"That would be great, if that happens," said Durant. "I hope I get drafted by a team that plays in a dome."

Web posted on Thursday, December 20, 2007

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