KENNESAW — Midway through Kennesaw State’s season-opening game against Reinhardt, Ben Moran was set and ready to receive the snap.
Little did Moran know he was about to get his “welcome to Division I college football” moment.
The next thing Moran knows, the ball is hitting his fingertips and then sailing 25 yards behind him. With defenders closing in, Moran did everything he could to limit the damage — almost.
“First thing I did was find the ball,” he said. “After that, secure the ball.”
In the next moment, Moran thought he was a running back, which does not in any way resemble his natural position.
The 6-foot-1, 165-pound former North Cobb Warrior won the starting punting job in fall camp, and he has been fairly solid so far, although Moran said he would like to get his average up to 40 yards per punt.
Through five games, he is averaging 33.4 yards per punt, and while the average may not be there yet, the net is 33.7 as Moran has only allowed one return, which went for a negative yard. His only punt last week against Hampton went for a career-long 50 yards.
Moran is not the only freshman kicker learning the ropes at Kennesaw State.
Former Walton standout Conor Cummins is currently the Owls’ backup place-kicker behind Nathan Robertson, and he has been used on kickoffs at times this season. Known for a big leg with the potential of a 55-plus-yard field goal, the 6-foot-1, 175-pound Cummins has kicked off four times this season, and he has already been credited with two tackles.
“I love being able to make tackles,” Cummins said. “It’s a kicker’s dream to have the ability to make a tackle. I get to show I’m more of an athlete.”
While the sample size isn’t large for Moran and Cummins, Kennesaw State coach Brian Bohannon is looking forward to the former Region 3AAAAAAA rivals fulfilling their potential.
“They are both young, they are both talented, they are both freshmen,” Bohannon said. They are both learning their way.
“I think they both have a high ceiling. I’m excited they are both here and they have a chance to do good things down the road. Hopefully, at some point, they will be able to fully showcase their abilities, and I don’t think they’ve had the opportunity to do that yet.”
Moran said the biggest difference between punting in high school and college is the speed of the rushers. At North Cobb, he could take three steps before kicking the ball. Now, it’s two steps and a lot quicker.
For Cummins, the big difference is returners in college are allowed to bring the ball out of the end zone. In high school, a kickoff into the end zone is an automatic touchback. Cummins said it has forced him to focus on the special teams’ scheme and ball placement.
Moran and Cummins were the top two place-kickers in Cobb County in 2020. Moran connected on three of five field goals and made all 40 of his extra points, while Cummins made 11 of 16 field goals and 30 of 33 extra points. Moran was also one of the top punters in the county with a 37.5-yard average.
Neither expected the other to become a teammate, but since the duo stepped on campus, they have become great friends.
However, that may be tested Friday night when Moran’s Warriors head to Raider Valley to take on Cummins’ Raiders. As two of the top teams in Class AAAAAAA, No. 3 North Cobb comes into the game 5-1 and 1-0 in Region 3AAAAAAA, while No. 6 Walton is 4-1 and 1-0.
The game will go a long way toward determining the region title.
Early in the week, a wager had yet to be set. One was expected, and there will be plenty of good-natured trash talking. While it was unlikely Moran and Cummins would be able to attend the game, as they will be getting ready to face North Carolina A&T on Saturday, both said they would be following it
And it is easy to expect whomever’s alma mater comes out on top, the other will be reminded about it for a long time.
That being said, it is not surprising the kickers have different views on how the game will play out.
“There’s no doubt it’s going to be a dogfight,” Moran said. “It’s going to be a four-quarter game.
“I have faith in my team — 42-21 North Cobb.”
Cummins also expects both teams to put up big-time performances.
“It’s going to be a great game,” he said. “It’s a battle for the region lead and the top team in Cobb County.
“I think, in the fourth quarter, (quarterback) Zak Rozsman is going to hit Sutton Smith for a touchdown and Walton will win 35-28.”
If both high school teams play to their ability, Moran is probably going to come out on top, which is not what personally happened against Reinhardt.
After securing the ball on the bad snap, he tried to run around the left side. Instead, three large Reinhardt defenders converged to tackle him. The play ended in an overall 33-yard loss. Moran was credited with one carry for minus-9 yards.
“Hopefully, next time, I run the ball it will be better,” he said.
It does not seem if a next time is going to be called any time soon, especially with the succinct answer Bohannon gave when he heard Moran was looking for a chance at redemption.
“I bet he is,” Bohannon said.