Daniel Carlson and Tyler Stovall raced to the center of the Georgia Dome turf and set up for a field goal. Seconds drained off of the play clock, which neared zero. Stovall, the holder, shouted to Auburn's offensive linemen, "Let's go! Let's go! Get down!"
3 ... 2 ... 1 ... snap, catch, laces out, boom! Carlson's 56-yard field goal Sept. 5 was the longest in Chick-fil-A Kickoff history, giving the Tigers a 17-0 lead over Louisville on the way to a 31-24 win. "I didn't have time to think -- but I had repped it so many times in practice and we had worked on hurry situations - it was being ready," Carlson said.
Carlson and Stovall, juniors in marketing at the Harbert College of Business, prepared for that kick - and many other similar situations - over and over again.
"The last thing you want to be feeling going into a game is, 'I should have done this more,'" Carlson said. "That's a lot like when you go into a test and you think, 'Oh, I should have studied this a little more.'
"There are always those people who are cramming right before a test. It's the best feeling in the world if you can just close your book and you know you're ready."
Stovall, valedictorian at Hokes Bluff (Ala.) High School in 2008, echoed Carlson's academic preparedness sentiment. No wonder the teammates, business analytics classmates and friends are SEC All-Academic selections.
"The work ethic in the classroom is something that you can lose if you don't stay on top of it," Stovall said. "Same thing in sports. I try to prepare myself early and try to cover every scenario. That way, when it comes up in the game, we are prepared. The 56-yarder in the Georgia Dome ... you don't know how many times me and Daniel have kicked 56-yarders in practice. If anything, it's a concept. In the academic world, my thing about being prepared is knowing the material far in advance. That way it's second nature."
How can a Southeastern Conference athlete successfully balance demanding academic studies with football?
"For me, I try to knock out as much as I can as quickly as I can early in the week," said Carlson, a Colorado Springs, Colo., native. "The last thing you want to be thinking about on Thursday night before Alabama, or a big game, is 'Oh boy, I've got to study all night.' You don't want to be stressed out about school, so Mondays we don't have practice and it's a big homework day."
Stovall, admittedly competitive in any game - including grades -- said he made the only "B" in his life last semester.
"Most athletes, they're here for a reason. They are disciplined in the athletic world, so I try to bring that same discipline over into academics," he said. "I've always competed in the classroom just like I have on the field. I try to make sure that I'm ahead of the game. I noticed that you get stressed when you let stuff linger, like when you have a project due. If I go ahead and knock it out, it makes me feel so much better."
The classmates often study together, even during slow periods at practice. They have a symbiotic study relationship that carries over from study sessions to the stadium - unique talents working together in unison. So far, it's worked. Through six games, Carlson has converted all 18 extra-point attempts and is 9-of-12 on field goal tries. Carlson converted all three field goal attempts in the Tigers' 30-27 win Oct. 15 at Kentucky -- including a crucial 52-yarder on the last play of the first half.
As a former professional baseball pitcher in the Atlanta Braves and Kansas City Royals minor league systems, Stovall likens the relationship between kicker and holder to the relationship between a pitcher and catcher.
"I wanted that same feel for Daniel, with him being the pitcher in the same sense for me in baseball," Stovall said. "I want him to feel at ease and in comfort up there, where he doesn't have to think about anything except make the kick. My job, and (long snapper Ike Powell) Ike's job, is to get the snap right, laces out, tilt it to where he wants it, where he doesn't have to worry about any of that stuff. Taking that mental load off of him - that's my job."
For that, Carlson is thankful.
"It's been really neat how it's worked out because a lot of times if I happen to miss a kick he knows what's going to be going through my head," he said. "We've been working together for two years now. We have classes together and we've become really good friends. We can help each other out. I'm able to trust him. We've worked the 'snap, hold, kick' about a million times now."
Carlson is quickly becoming one of the most productive kickers in the nation and he knows that Auburn has a solid reputation of putting kickers in the NFL.
"That's my Plan A. That's what I'd love to do. But it's a job you can't count on. You miss a couple of big kicks in a game and there goes your shot," he said. "You've got to have a good Plan B and that's why I'm making sure that I'm getting as much schooling as I can while I'm here."
Carlson said he is interested in coaching and marketing popular national kicking camps. "I could bring my marketing skills in and market my own company and still have that football side of it," he added.
Stovall, who was endorsed by Spalding and worked as a popular pitching and hitting instructor, said Plan A was to be a professional baseball player. "I'm already in Plan B," he said.
"Have a Plan B because Plan A doesn't always work out no matter how hard you strive for it," he added. "Now, I'm getting my marketing degree."