Cameron Nizialek, Dawgs a perfect match


Radi Nabulsi

In his redshirt season at Columbia, Cameron Nizialek knew that he wanted to play Power Five college football after receiving his Ivy League degree.

He just didn't know where.

Nizialek's final season in New York had come to an end around Thanksgiving, and had spoken to multiple prestigious programs about joining a roster -- including Clemson, South Carolina and Virginia Tech.

But it was when Nizialek's conversations transpired with former off-field special teams assistant James Vollono (who is now the special teams coach at Florida International) that he found his match.

The soon-to-graduate specialist took a trip to Sanford Stadium for the Georgia Tech game. After taking a trip a few miles north to Clemson shortly thereafter and doing research on the punting situations of multiple programs, Nizialek found his match.

"He fell into our lap," Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said after Nizialek averaged 43.8 yards on five punts in his Bulldog debut.

Nizialek is a walk-on as a graduate transfer, with only one year of eligibility. Out of Chantilly (Va.) High School, not many scholarship opportunities came his way and no athletic scholarships are distributed at Ivy League programs.

Nizialek majored in Economics at Columbia, and is now taking an easier track here at Georgia to earn his Masters' degree at the end of this semester. Nevertheless, Nizialek's academic desires come from his elders who both graduated at Duke -- his mother a biomedical engineering major, and his dad specializing in physics.

Even after successful punting displays at Columbia and aspirations to play in the NFL, Nizialek's approach in regards to funding didn't deter him from finding a Power Five school.

His only priority was set out early on in his Ivy League days, that he graduate in three-and-a-half years in order to pursue this opportunity as a spring enrollee.

"It wasn't a big deal for me, I wanted to get the best degree possible," Nizialek said. "I was looking at strong academic programs and I didn't have a ton of options out of high school. Ivy League was where I wanted to go."

Nizialek was tasked with beating out sophomore Marshall Long -- who is on scholarship -- and walk-on freshman and Marist product Bill Rubright for the starting role.

After earning the spot throughout spring and preseason practices, Nizialek has given Georgia a spark at the position that it hasn't seen in quite some time. Through three games, Nizialek has averaged 44.27 yards on 15 punts.

His long currently stands at 57 yards, which he recorded Georgia's 42-14 win over Samford.

"I'd say I have done an all right job, but I would like to do a little bit better," Nizialek said. "I think there's room to improve, even though I'm excited about how I've been doing. I have been doing better at practice, so I want to keep that rolling and it's important to flip the field."

Smart added: "He just changes the field position. He's had a couple of punts that were bombs."

While having success, Nizialek has had to become accustomed to the differences in a game day at Lawrence A. Wien Stadium at Columbia and a "Saturday in Athens" at Sanford Stadium.

He noticed it when he got a taste of both atmospheres before Georgia's latest contest against Samford. Nizialek was preparing in the Bulldogs' locker room and watching Columbia's season opener against Wagner -- which his former team won 17-14, by the way -- and seeing "no fans in the crowd" and a different pace of play.

Moments later, Nizialek jogs out of the tunnel and sees nearly 93,000 fans decked out in red-and-black.

"It's something you have to cherish, because it's really an incredible experience," Nizialek said. "I was told to soak it in for a moment, but block it out after that. I'm going to appreciate it every time I'm out there."