June 7, 2009

Palardy digs Gran tour

Two years ago when prized kicking prospect Michael Palardy banged home a 60-yard field goal, Eddie Gran was standing on the St. Thomas Aquinas practice field in South Florida.

Now the 6-foot, 170-pounder who's regarded by many as the top overall kicker in the 2010 class finds himself still talking with Gran -- the first-year special teams and tailbacks coach at Tennessee who's made the Vols a major player in the talent-laden Miami area.

"It's real good," Palardy said of his rapport with Gran. "He's real good friends with coach (Tim) Conrad, and when I was a sophomore, that's when I first met coach Gran when he was still at Auburn. At practice he came in and was talking to coach Conrad. It was funny; I was in practice doing field goals that day and had a nasty wind. I was kicking a 60-yard field goal from the left hash, and my coach was like, 'Palardy, if you make this Coach Gran is going to offer you a scholarship.' And I kicked it, it hit the bar and bounced in. That was when I first started talking to coach Gran.

"He's known me obviously since sophomore year and he knows what I'm capable of. I love coach Gran. Daniel (Lincoln) was actually telling me that if he could go back and do the whole recruiting process over again, he would play for this coaching staff. There's no other coaching staff in the nation he would play for. Coming from a kicker playing for two coaching staffs and with the transition, coming from him it's a big deal. It definitely opens my mind to a lot of things."

Spending the weekend in Knoxville with his family, Palardy -- who booted a 70-yarder off the ground rather than off a tee last fall in practice -- got a full campus tour and also shared what he found to be some revealing time with Vols head coach Lane Kiffin.

"When I first got up here, I really didn't know what to expect," he said. "I heard from my coach, Tim Conrad, that it was an amazing place. He came in and didn't really have high expectations of it, but he was really surprised. And so am I. I'm overwhelmed by the facilities and stuff that are here. They were telling us about how they're going to take the weight room and put it (at the opposite end) and build like a 22,000-square feet weight room. It's unbelievable. The stadium, walking into the stadium and just walking through with four people, it's overwhelming. Like it never ends. I'd never really experienced anything like that before, so going in there was unbelievable.

"And talking to coach Kiffin, I can tell already that people love playing for him. He's a great guy. He's not just a stern football coach. He's also a guy you can just talk to or say whatever."

Knowing he has a lengthy relationship with Gran and getting a good feel for the ability to foster one with Kiffin not only provided Palardy with peace of mind but also his parents.

"Going to the academics, my parents were actually asking a lot of questions about how being so far away from home, a lot of kids don't really succeed because they're homesick or it's different from being around your family the whole time," said Palardy, who first started playing soccer at age 4 and credits his father as a huge influence for his success. "Having a coaching staff you can kind of relate to and not necessarily just talk about football with but other stuff, that's more comforting for me and especially going to be coming in as a freshman. I'm not going to know the place as much as I do South Florida. I've got people who can show me the ropes and show me around and say this is what you do and this is what you don't do. This is what happens on the weekends.

"Having a coaching staff that can do that with me is one in a million. There's not many coaching staffs where you can have relationships. It's like coming in recruiting, people come in and coaches talk so highly of you and once you get there, it's move on to the next person. Coach Gran, he was telling me and my family that his priorities are God, family and the University of Tennessee. Not many coaches are like that. They're usually football, family and on. He's so family-oriented that it makes my parents feel more comfortable that I'm in the hands of people who will watch over me and keep me in line."

Palardy is merely the latest in a litany of St. Thomas Aquinas kickers whom Conrad have helped blossom into college players. Approximately 10 St. Thomas kickers and punters have gone on to play Division I football in the last decade, include Auburn's Wes Byrum and Arkansas' Chris Balseiro.

"I played freshman football and after my six-game freshman season, coach Conrad got me and started me training and moved me up to varsity. I worked with Wes Byrum and Mickey Groody (Florida Atlanta punter) and started working out with the team. From there, it was coach Conrad. He kept pushing me and every single week on Sundays, always go out while people are asleep in bed. He's been a great help."

And speaking of help, Palardy says that's what his weekend trip to Knoxville did for the Vols. So where are they among the dozen or so programs who already have offered?

"Up there. Up there," he emphasized. "Up there for sure."

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