As a true freshman out of Norcross High School, Jake Camarda won the start as the Dawgs punter for 2018, replacing 2017 graduate transfer Cameron Nizialek who was a rock-steady leg that the UGA coaching staff could count on when it came to having to punt the ball. Big shoes to fill but Camarda had the talent and the leg to do so with.
That freshman campaign saw ups and downs for Camarda as he would struggle with his consistency where he averaged 55 yards per punt in the season opener versus Austin-Peay and on the road later in the season versus Kentucky, but he would also struggle in losses to LSU on the road and Texas in the Sugar Bowl.
2019 saw Camarda start off on the right foot in the first three games averaging 54, 48, and 48.67 yards per punt versus Vanderbilt, Murray State, and Arkansas State. Then the consistency bug rose up to bite Camarda once again when Notre Dame came to Athens on September 21st and the following game on the road in Knoxville vs. Tennessee just two weeks later. In each of those two games, Camarda averaged just over 35 yards per punt.
But Camarda would turn it around over the next two games versus South Carolina and Kentucky, averaging 57.67 and 52.83 yards per punt. Then came his performance in the 21-14 win over Auburn on the road in a hostile environment where he punted the ball 11 times, averaging 50.73 yards per punt.
In last Monday’s press conference following the win over the Tigers and as the Bulldogs got ready to prepare for Texas A&M, Kirby Smart was questioned about sticking with Camarda despite his struggles with consistency at times and commented on his sophomore punter’s performance.
“In that moment, it was obviously one of the pivotal — I mean it was a field position game. So with him doing that, he flipped the field position, did a tremendous job. Can’t say enough about,” said Kirby. “I mean the thing about all the confidence in sticking with him, we’re at practice every day. So you don’t get the fortune of seeing that. But he does that all the time. So everybody’s like, well, is Jake going to continue to be your punter?”
“Yeah, he hit 60 yards at practice. It’s just a matter of when it comes to fruition in the game. You just keep working with him. I think psychologically he’s handling things a lot better, and mentally he’s been much stronger and he’s done a really good job,” added Kirby. “He was very impactful in that game, and just hope he can continue to do that. And we have to cover him well because you can outkick your coverage when you punt. He’s close to doing that. He’s just booming the ball, but we’ve had good coverage with him.”
And Kirby’s faith in Camarda was well justified as the sophomore has just kept his head down and kept kicking… kicking with confidence. On Tuesday, Camarda was asked whether or not he lost any confidence earlier in the season.
“I never really thought my confidence went down. I probably had a couple of bad punts in the Notre Dame game, but I also had a couple of good balls in the Notre Dame game,” said Camarda. “The one thing that I’ve tried to do is stay positive all year no matter what happens. I think my confidence level has been good.”
Coach Smart was asked on Tuesday if Camarda had done anything special to “hone in” the power of his leg.
“I can’t say that he’s done anything to hone it in. He’s always had a powerful leg… I mean that’s why we signed him. He was a tremendous kicker in high school and a great punter. He’s got great lift, I mean he lifts the ball on kicks really well too, as well as punts. I can’t pinpoint. He might be able to tell you better what exactly the trigger points have been,” said Kirby. “I think he’s just more comfortable in the moment. And he’s more experienced. He’s done a really good job making some big punts. I know the mindset side of things, the sports psychology side of things, he’s met with people and done stuff there and I think that’s helped him too.”
Depending on how well the Georgia offense moves the ball on Saturday versus Georgia Tech, we will get to see Camarda show off that canon of a leg for one more regular-season game before the Dawgs take on LSU in the SEC Championship game.