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|07-04-2009, 11:46 AM||#1|
A Son of Martha
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Colquitt went from department store to UT punter in 1975 (to Steelers punter in 1978)
Colquitt went from department store to UT punter in 1975
Mike Strange, email@example.com
Originally published 09:57 p.m., July 3, 2009
Updated 09:57 p.m., July 3, 2009
Is there a name anywhere so identified with a position and a school or team in all of football as Colquitt, punting and Tennessee?
Check the career punting leaders after nearly 120 years of Vol football:
1, Colquitt, J.
2, Colquitt, B.
3, Colquitt, D.
4, Colquitt, C.
The genesis of this Colquitt punting legacy started not so very far from Neyland Stadium. It started one day in the early 1970s on a field in South Knoxville.
South High School coach Willard Brown was losing his senior punter and asked his squad for volunteers, anybody interested in trying the job.
"The entire team raised their hands,'' Craig Colquitt recalled.
"It kept getting narrowed down and I won the job.''
Colquitt wasn't born with a golden foot. He hadn't been shipped off to a punting academy as a pre-schooler.
He was in fact South's star running back and played end on defense. He was also the back-up man on kickoffs.
"So I was used to swinging my leg,'' he said, "and I had decent hands from playing baseball.
"I hit the ball pretty good but the thing was I was quick. I was a two-step punter when everybody else was three-step.''
It would make a tidy story if from that very moment Colquitt was on his way to setting records at Tennessee, winning Super Bowl rings with the Pittsburgh Steelers, fathering future Vol punters and ultimately, his induction Thursday in the Greater Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame.
But it wasn't exactly that direct. When Colquitt graduated from South in 1972, Neyland Stadium across the river still seemed an impossible dream.
Colquitt had offers to play running back at Wofford in South Carolina and Lees-McRae in North Carolina.
"Wofford was all males and that didn't work,'' Colquitt said. "When my parents and I went up to Lees-McRae it was all fog and cold.
"So I graduated from high school and didn't do anything for two years.''
What he did was work in the china department at Miller's department store downtown.
One day his boss showed him a newspaper that said UT was holding tryouts for punters. Colquitt, not entirely enthralled with a career in a department store, wrote a letter to George Cafego, Tennessee's legendary kicking coach.
In the spring of 1974, Colquitt enrolled and showed up for spring practice. By the 1975 season-opener, Colquitt, a sophomore, was UT's punter.
The Vols opened at home against Maryland, a night game. Both teams ranked. In short, a big deal.
"My first college punt, backed up at the back of the end zone,'' he said. "I fumbled that sucker, a guy came off my right side and the only thing I could think of was to fall down on it for a safety.
"I thought I was going to get crucified when I came to the sideline but coach Cafego's first words were, 'Good job.' ''
Those two words would be repeated many times over to Colquitt during the next three seasons. He rewrote the school record book, averaging 42.5 yards per punt over his career.
As a senior in 1977, he averaged 44.7 yards, second in the nation.
Afterward, Chuck Noll, coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, came to town to personally work out Colquitt, then drafted him in the third round.
He showed up in camp with four other contenders for the job but beat them all.
Colquitt led the AFC in 1978 and ended the season in a Super Bowl victory over Dallas.
In 1979, the Steelers won another Super Bowl.
"The Super Bowl rings are great,'' Colquitt said. "I use 'em in sales and speaking, but it's the memories of the community that mean the most.
"I was just a country hick, but they loved their Steelers. It was a joy to be in the game but to go out in the community, I was treated like royalty.''
Colquitt's career was interrupted when he missed the 1982 season after injuring his knee in a pick-up basketball game. He came back to punt two more years, then the Steelers cut him before the 1985 season.
He played a few games in 1987 for the Colts but it was time for Craig and wife Anne to raise a family in Knoxville.
By then, his nephew, Jimmy Colquitt, had broken Craig's records at UT, averaging 43.9 yards from 1981-84.
A generation later, Craig's sons started showing up at UT and dropping dad on down the list.
Dustin, bumped him to third place, averaging 42.567 from 2001-05.
Then Britton knocked pop down to fourth by averaging 42.569 from 2006-08.
Dustin has enjoyed four seasons punting with the Kansas City Chiefs. His coach there, Todd Haley, was a ballboy for the Steelers, the son of Dick Haley, Pittsburgh's director of player personnel who had a hand in drafting Craig Colquitt.
"They love Dustin in Kansas City,'' Craig said. "He's got two sons, a TV show and he's working with two charities.''
Britton signed with Denver as a free agent and will try to beat out incumbent Brett Kern.
"I can't sleep, I want for him to make it so bad,'' Craig said.
"I feel like I've handed down a business to my sons. Whether they take advantage of it is up to them.''
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