In Alabama’s season-opening 35-10 win over Virginia Tech in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta last week, Cody Mandell had a career-high nine punts.
“I’ve got a little cushion (for NCAA qualifying) now,” he said with a laugh. But he said he wasn’t frustrated last year. “I’m just worried about doing the best for my team,” he said. “If I get some personal award, that’s fine.”
One would have to say he’s doing the best he can for his team. He came to Alabama in 2010 as a “recruited walk-on” from Lafayette, La., and won the starting job and Freshman All-Southeastern Conference with 41 punts for a 39.2 yards per punt average. He improved as a sophomore, 39 punts for a 39.3 average for the national champions.
In 2012, another national championship season, Mandell had 50 punts for 2,214 yards, an Alabama record 44.3 yards-per-punt average.
In last week’s game to start the 2013 season, he punted nine times for a 46.4 yards per punt average, which calculated to a 41.9 net average after the Hokies returned four of the kicks for 41 yards. (Three of the returns netted minus two yards, but one was run back 43 yards before the tackle was made by...Cody Mandell.
“Obviously, coming off a good season last year, and just trying to build and do what ever the team needs, basically, we had a great game on special teams,” said Mandell. “We gave up a big punt return, but, thankfully, we stopped them on that one.”
Mandell’s great night was over-shadowed in special teams attention by Christion Jones, who returned a punt 72 yards for a touchdown and a kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown.
Ironically, Bama’s big game on special teams came against the coach – Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer – generally considered the guru of the kicking game. The Hokies gave Mandell some interesting looks, a couple of times bringing the house with no one back deep to receive the punt.
“I don’t really think about that,” Mandell said. “Of course, I do my math for the coverage. We have our different looks. They brought the house on a few of them and thankfully Cole Mazza snaps the ball so fast and I got the ball off, so it didn’t make that much of a difference. But they were close on a few of them. But I thought we executed pretty well.”
Alabama Coach Nick Saban had called Mandell one of the most improved players on the Tide squad. Mandell says he attributes that to “feeling better. As a punter, a kicker, you have to feel better. You want to hit a specific punt. You’re not always going to do that, so your bad ball has to be playable. So I’ve been working on not hitting that 19-yard punt.”
Although Mandell spends most of his summer in Tuscaloosa with his teammates in the off-season workouts, he also spends a few days at the prestigious Kohl’s Kicking Came in Wisconsin.
“It’s called the elite camp,” Mandell said. “It’s the best college and free agent guys. I went up there for three days. It’s a lot of competition, a lot of charting. It’s just good to be around guys like that, guys that can hit a bigger ball than you. It’s also a confidence boost to know you are in the top five in the nation. I go up there once a summer.”
As for what they work on in Wisconsin, Mandell said, “Shorten steps. Later drop. Any punter -- a later drop will make it a more consistent ball whether it be inside or outside. A lower drop will make it easier for you to hit it in the wind. And my follow-through. And overall tempo.”
After his busy night against Virginia Tech, nine punts and a tackle, he said he was tired after the game. A year earlier against LSU he had punted seven times, with an embarrassing effect. “I started cramping after the game,” he said. “Barrett Jones had a little fun with me on that.
“Thankfully, I didn’t cramp after this game. I drank enough water. I was tired, but I got my rest Saturday night.”
The tackle by the 6-foot-4, 213-pound Mandell may have saved a touchdown by Virginia Tech. When he got back to the sideline, he said, Bama defenders asked him “if it was a face mask. I didn’t think it was.Then they told me, ‘Good hit.’ They didn’t think I could hit.
“That was the first tackle I have ever made, so I was pretty excited about it.”