September 19, 2017 9:55:53 AM
STARKVILLE -- The Tucker Day hype was more than just a creation of recruiting rankings and the musings of Mississippi State fans.
Kicker Jace Christmann saw Day, a freshman from Brentwood, Tennessee, impress in his first collegiate practices. Day's performance left the rest of MSU's kickers with one choice.
"He's a heck of a kicker. I knew he was going to be the guy going into the season," Christmann said. "I just prayed and prayed and prayed that one day I would get my opportunity, and (Saturday) I did. I took advantage of it."
Christmann kicked three field goals and four extra points in MSU's 37-7 victory against then-No. 12 LSU on Saturday at Davis Wade Stadium. The effort earned Christmann a spot as MSU's starting kicker when it takes on No. 11 Georgia (3-0) at 6 p.m. Saturday (ESPN) at Sanford Stadium.
Christmann's success in his first start was met with rousing applause from the crowd of 60,596 that grew louder with each successful attempt.
"It was pretty awesome," Christmann said. "Mississippi State last season kind of struggled on that part of the game, so hearing the crowd erupt like that was a dream come true. It was a blessing."
Christmann said he was told Friday he would start. The ensuing reaction was obvious -- "a lot of nerves, a lot of excitement" -- but Christmann said he went about Saturday morning "like any normal day."
"You just have to zone it all out, block it all out, and trust your teammates," he said.
Christmann, a 6-foot, 195-pound freshman from Houston, Texas, was voted the top punter in Class 6A, District 18 in his senior year at Memorial High School in 2015. The walk-on kicker/punter joined the MSU program during August 2016 camp. His prowess as a kicker and punter drew the attention of kicking expert Gary Zauner, but he admits the game experience before his starting debut helped. His first game action, after redshirting in 2016, was a late extra point against Charleston Southern. MSU coach Dan Mullen made the switch to Christmann for extra points in the second half of the game against Louisiana Tech, citing inconsistency from Day in transition from the practice field to games.
Christmann said the experience prepared him for the full-time job, even stretching out the extra points to field goals, such as the 45-yarder he made against LSU.
"It's a little bit different, but it's the same thing: have to keep the same swing and trust it," Christmann said.
Trusting his approach was Christmann's was his biggest emphasis before this season.
"I think my biggest issue all of last year and spring was I think I was going to the ball way too fast," he said. "I tried to slow down and figured out that trusting my leg was the best thing for me."
That trust has helped Christmann win the starting job.
"He did well in the game and in practice. All I can do is go off practice," Mullen said. "He had a great week of practice this week, so we went with him and he took advantage of the opportunity."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
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