There was a time not too long ago when the sight of Cade Foster trotting onto the field elicited audible groans from the crowd. Not because the Crimson Tide wasn't going for it on fourth down, but due to Foster struggling to consistently convert his field goal attempts.
Now when Foster lines up, there is a quiet optimism and usually three more points tacked onto the scoreboard.
There was also a time not that distant when an invited walk-on punter from Lafayette. La. played his first game at the University of Alabama ahead of a scholarship punter. The general feeling at the time was that Cody Mandell wouldn't hold on to the job.
Now when Mandell booms a punt it often flips the field position or pins an opponent inside its own 20, and it's no surprise. It's expected.
If you haven't kept a close account, Foster and Mandell are thriving this season.
Foster, who came into the season converting less than half (13 of 27) of his career attempts, is 11 of 12 on the season. He hasn't missed a field goal in two months, a 46-yarder in the first quarter against Colorado State.
"Cade's always been a really good kickoff guy, but he's really improved his accuracy in field goals and consistency," UA coach Nick Saban said.
Mandell earned conference and national recognition Monday for his performance against Mississippi State in which three of his four punts went for more than 50 yards, including a 63-yarder, in windy conditions. He was named Southeastern Conference Special Teams Player of the Week and is a Ray Guy Award semifinalist.
For the season he's averaging 47.3 yards per punt and he's landed nearly 40 percent of his punts inside the opponents 20 yard line.
The awards are nice and all, he says, but he's more concerned about what's to come.
"It's great, but I've just got to focus on the next game, focus on what I've got to do," Mandell said. "I've got four games. I've got two games left in the regular season and I've got focus on the next game. It's always about the next game, the next punt. I can't really look ahead."
The entire special teams unit, including the coverage and return teams, have excelled for the majority of the season with just a couple of bumps along the way. Senior Day on Saturday has provided a chance to pause for reflection, and on that end, Saban has particularly enjoyed the growth he's seen in Foster and Mandell.
"Both have done a really, really good job and both have improved dramatically," Saban said. "Cody has gotten a little better every year, to where I think he's a very, very good punter right now. Consistent in terms of all the things he does and he does a lot of things. He can make alternative kicks even on kickoff-type stuff. He's worked really hard. Both guys have shown a lot of maturity in making a significant improvement throughout their career here.
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