Greg Pittman keeps telling Southern coach Dawson Odums he can do more than just place-kick.
Adding punting duties might not be everything Pittman has in mind, but it’s a start, and Pittman is expected to handle place-kicks, kickoffs and punts for the Jaguars when they open the season Sept. 5 at Louisiana Tech.
“Pittman’s a different guy,” Odums said. “He keeps telling me those guys aren’t just punters or kickers, they’re football players. They keep telling me they’re an elite group of performers, too.”
While the team was reviewing film recently, Pittman bristled when Odums chided one of Pittman’s teammates for being tackled by an opposing kicker.
“He was giving one guy a hard time for not being able to shake the kicker because we’re the worst athletes on the team and I said, ‘Coach, you must be crazy,’ Pittman said with a smile. ‘You had to see my tackle in the SWAC championship and you had to see my two-point conversion two years ago at Arkansas-Pine Bluff.’ ”
At Pine Bluff, Pittman, 5-foot-11, 179 pounds, reacted to a bad snap on an extra point, picked up the loose ball and ran into the end zone.
But his pride and joy came on the opening kickoff in the Southwestern Athletic Conference Championship game against Alcorn State in December.
“I didn’t hit it clean,” Pittman said. “It was a little too low, and I knew it wasn’t going to have enough hang time. So I sprinted faster to try and fill a gap. The guy returning the kick chose my gap. I tried my best to put my pads through his thighs, and I made the first solo tackle of my career.”
Pittman dropped Jarvis Turner at the 29-yard line, popped up with his helmet askew, and jumped up and down.
“The highlight of my career,” Pittman said.
When reminded of a game-winning field in the final seconds at Alabama State in a game that was a key to Southern’s SWAC Championship run two years ago, Pittman stuck with the tackle as his No. 1 highlight.
“We’re expected to make those kicks,” Pittman said. “We’re put in that position all the time. With that tackle, I got to prove I’m more than the least athletic player or just a kicker. I put pads on too, and I can hit with the best of them — at least in my mind I can.”
Pittman said he has shown the highlight to family and friends several times, and he’s always in Odums’ ear.
“If we ever talk about fake field goals, I’m always the one saying, ‘Coach, call my number,’ ” Pittman said. “I’m always challenging him — put a little faith in us, put a little trust in us. I’ve proven to him that I can handle anything that he throws my way.”
Pittman handled place-kicking and punting at Helen Cox High School, but he was considered a kicker who also punted. He wasn’t recruited as a punter, and the idea of punting at Southern wasn’t broached until the offseason.
Pittman has been Southern’s primary field goal kicker for the last season and a half and he shared the position with Matt Hill for a season and a half before that.
Odums approached Pittman because he wanted a senior to compete with freshman Taylor Merritt, who has shown a strong leg but hasn’t been as consistent as Pittman, who handled both punts in the Jaguars most recent scrimmage, placing one out of bounds at the 1-yard line.
“I think the biggest adjustment for me will be — instead of kicking five balls in the net before a general field goal,” Pittman said, “I might hit one and just learn to trust my swing so I can save my leg through the game and through the season.”
Merritt played football and basketball at Arcadia High School and Pittman has a diverse athletic background. He said he was “a little chunky” when he played park ball and was used as a guard and a defensive tackle. He played linebacker in middle school and fullback and quarterback early in his high school career.
“I’d say I’m well-rounded when it comes to the football field,” Pittman said.
First-year special teams coach Steve Adams said he’s been impressed with the way Pittman interacts with his teammates, who elected him special teams captain.
“A lot of times specialists — kickers, punters, snappers — they’re kind of secluded and they’re kind of in their own deal and they’re not part of the team, but Greg’s one of the guys,” Adams said. “He’s hanging out with them and he was elected captain because of his work ethic and because guys respect him.”
Pittman also was a soccer goalkeeper and played multiple positions in baseball growing up.
“I love added responsibilities,” Pittman said. “I love the game of football. I’ve been playing it since I was seven. I’m not just a generic kicker.
“If you put the ball in my hands to throw a fake field goal, I’d love it. I’ll practice it every day. I’ll take pride in it, just like when I had an opportunity to make a tackle. If I can make a football play that doesn’t require kicking, I’ll be happy with that too.”
Follow Les East on Twitter @EastAdvocate.