Southern Miss defensive coordinator Tony Pecoraro’s entire face lit up when asked if he had noticed the strong leg of kicker Briggs Bourgeois.
“I definitely noticed that,” Pecoraro said, “and I love that.”
Bourgeois, a true freshman from St. Amant, La., has kicked off 33 times this season. Twenty of his kickoffs have been so deep that they have not been returned. In effect, the opposing team starts its possession at the 25-yard line, and has 75 yards to go for a touchdown, a long way.
Last season, the Golden Eagles kicked off 81 times and had 18 touchbacks, and senior Tyler Sarrazin had 16 of those. So with only half the 2017 season over, Bourgeois already has more touchbacks than the team did a year ago.
“Any time they don’t get an opportunity to return a kickoff, it’s great,” Pecoraro said. “Just look at the statistics of teams driving the field, the farther they have to go, the harder it is (to score).”
Bourgeois knows that, too, but it’s easier said than done, especially when thousands of eyes are on you.
“First game, my legs went numb,” Bourgeois said. “This is different from playing in high school. I was nervous the first couple of games. But now I kind of settled in. Now, I’m getting confident with the crowd, with my steps, with kicking, so it doesn’t affect me much no more.”
For most college football players, the school goes after them. For Bourgeois, it was almost the opposite.
“I was always texting and asking (USM coach Jay Hopson) if they had a kicking camp,” the 6-foot-1, former Louisiana all-state kicker and wide receiver said. “He’d say, ‘No, just come to one of those (regular camps) like everybody comes.’
“So I came early that morning and kicked for him. It was one of my better days of kicking. They showed me around campus and it was unbelievable. I loved everything about it.”
Bourgeois attended other camps, too, like ones at LSU and Alabama, and was offered scholarships by Nicholls State and Texas Southern. But he wanted to go to Southern Miss.
Hopson began talking about him before the season started, and now he’s the kickoff specialist and backup punter.
“It makes me feel really good in that I can help my team out, help our defense out, make them drive 80 yards to score a touchdown,” Bourgeois said.
When he does, he always gets some high fives from teammates, especially the other kicking specialists.
“They call us the Misfits of Lost Toys or something like that, like on Toy Story,” he said. “We’re all really, really close.”
Hopson may not know everything about the “Misfits,” but he knows that he likes Bourgeois’ leg.
“He's been a real plus and advantage for us,” Hopson said. “If he gets ahold of it, he's that guy who can sail it out the end zone. I think he's done a tremendous job. That's a big help to the defense to have a kicker like Briggs.
“Briggs is a multi-talented kicker. He’s a guy who can kick field goals and punt. As his time here continues, you’ll see Briggs being used in more and more roles. He’s a big advantage for us.”
Who: Southern Miss vs. Louisiana Tech
When: 6 p.m., Saturday
Where: Ruston, La.
Radio: 104.9 FM