Graham getting a kick out of his job as UConn's starting punter

Storrs — Brett Graham recalls little of his first college punt.

"I kind of blacked out a little bit on the first one," Graham said.

For the record, the redshirt freshman's debut punt sailed 42 yards and was not returned in UConn's season-opening win over Holy Cross last Thursday.

It was a solid performance overall, as Graham averaged 40.5 yards per kick, twice pinning Holy Cross back inside its own 20-yard line. His longest punt carried 44 yards. He also drew a roughing the kicker penalty.

"It was kind of nerve-racking, but I tried to stay calm because as a specialist you don't want to get all juiced up because you'll start shaking," Graham said of his debut.

Graham earned a game ball from coach Randy Edsall for his special teams play.

"I thought he did a good job of punting for the first time," Edsall said. "When you take a look at the five punts that he had and where they started with their field position was pretty good."

Graham learned that he had won the starting job over Luke Magliozzi, a freshman from Australia, only 30 minutes before kickoff.

Edsall made the decision after watching pregame warmups.

"I wasn't sure what we were going to do," Edsall said. "So we're in pregame warmup and we take two punts. Brett goes up and punts the ball. Luke comes up, standing there, the snap comes back and he drops the snap. ... He's got some nerves. There's no way that I can put him in the game when I saw that."

Edsall was leaning toward starting Graham anyway. Magliozzi was a late arrival to preseason camp and dealing with the many adjustments of living in a different country and playing a different sport other than Australian Rules Football.

Graham comes from the heart of college football country.

Living in State College, Pa., about eight minutes from Beaver Stadium, his family has season tickets to Penn State games. Even when his parents were in the Marine Corps and stationed in Germany, they would travel to some home games.

High school football is huge, too.

Up to 8,000 fans regularly attended his games at State College Area High School. He started out as primarily a tight end and began taking punting seriously during his junior season.

He figured that he'd play tight end in college until his special teams coach suggested that he think about being a punter. He's always had a strong leg.

"From then, he kind of coached me up and I started really taking it seriously," Graham said.

It was late in the recruiting process that Graham connected with UConn. Graham was attending Kornblue Kicking Camp at the time. He received a scholarship offer in January of his senior year.

He had three choices: be a punter at UConn, a tight end at Shippensburg (Pa.) University or give up football and attend Penn State.

"I chose the best option out of those three," Graham said.

Graham benefited from sitting out as a red-shirt last season, soaking up knowledge from veteran kicker Justin Wain (punter) and Bobby Puyol (placekicker). He also learned a new position, becoming the starting holder.

"I took a lot from Justin," Graham said. "It's hard to say in words how much he gave me. It's a lot mental, too. He would always come back from his miss-hits... He kind of taught me that. Also, Bobby did a really good job helping me through it and technique-wise as well."

Graham has won the starting job for now. Players basically rent and don't own their positions under Edsall.

He has brought some stability to a position that Edsall considered one of his biggest concerns heading into preseason camp.

He's enjoying his new football home.

"It's cool to finally be out there at an awesome environment like UConn," Graham said.

g.keefe@theday.com

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